More Green, Less Screen – Martine Oglethorpe
As our ability to move around, get outdoors, experience fresh air and enjoy greater freedoms of milder weather and lighter lockdown restrictions, it is a good time to get ourselves back to nature for a little more green and a little less screen. We know that nature and spending time immersed in the natural living world has a profound effect on every element of the human body. From the physical effects to the psychological, the social, the emotional and the cognitive. For thousands of years our indigenous cultures have certainly known this to be true, and now we continue to have a barrage of scientific research to support those many benefits. So aiming for a little more green, despite the ever-present pull of screens and technology, can only be a good thing.
Physical benefits of nature
Spending time amongst nature’s living landscape can help lower blood pressure, manage heart rate, muscle tension and the production of stress-relieving hormones. In essence, a pleasing environment helps all of those things, whilst an environment that is not so pleasing can induce feelings of anxiety, stress and put pressure on the immune system. The Japanese practice of forest bathing has been proven to result in optimum nervous system function, well-balanced heart conditions, and reduced bowel disorders. Contact with natural light is also said to have greater therapeutic benefits on stress, immunity and blood pressure.
Psychological benefits of nature
Psychologically speaking, nature can improve mood, highlight mindful feelings, and greater wellbeing through lowering the production of the stress hormone cortisol. I certainly know that the daily walk to the park or around our local lake was my saviour to get me through the months of lockdown during covid.
Cognitive benefits of nature
Cognitively, nature can provide respite for overactive minds. This means the concentration levels can be improved when taking a break and immersing oneself in nature. We are able to refresh ourselves to experience greater concentration when we must return to cognitive tasks. Some studies have also shown those who spend more time in nature have greater memory retention and concentration levels. So getting up from the screens for a walk around the block, spending some time playing with a pet, or lying out under a tree should always be part of your productivity schedule.
Social benefits of nature
Socially, those surrounded by nature can feel a greater sense of connectedness. Reports have also unity with neighbours. They are even more likely to reach out to help others.
Emotional benefits of nature
Emotionally, nature has also been seen to inspire greater feelings of wellbeing. Parts of the brain have been shown to ignite feelings of empathy and love when participants viewed nature scenes as opposed to those associated with greater stress and anxiety when viewing urban scenes.
Building global awareness
By spending time in nature, we encourage feelings of concern for the planet. When we reap all of the benefits, we can help to build a generation of kids who are passionate about doing their bit to ensure the spoils of nature remain for future generations.
Getting more green in our daily lives
Now of course that doesn’t mean we have to all pack up from our urban or suburban dwellings and head bush…but it does mean that we can take heed of the research and do what we can to catch as many snippets of nature as we can and build in regular outdoor excursions into our day.
- Head out for a walk: regardless of where you live, the weather, the amount of greenery….the feeling of the wind, sun, rain and even snow on your face can be enough to invigorate, refresh and replenish.
- Have regular breaks when working. Especially when working from home, taking 15 minutes to play with a dog (one of nature’s great living creatures!) can do wonders for concentration and wellbeing.
- Bring nature in. Pot plants and indoor greenery have also been proven to improve mood and wellbeing. Plants can also clean air by absorbing toxins, increase humidity and produce oxygen. (Obviously with kids and animals in the home it is also important to check which ones may be toxic or affect allergies and asthma). Similar to viewing nature, bringing the sounds of nature into your home and environment can also lead to benefits. It is no surprise that many meditation and mindfulness apps are based around the calming noises of the oceans, animals and bush sounds.
- Make outside/nature quotas to go along with screen hours. If kids are spending increasing amounts of time on screens without a break, it may be time to offer them time on a screen in lieu of time spent outdoors, in nature, or being active. Whilst this can be tricky at the start, and may certainly be harder for different age groups, it is important to build in a culture of balanced play into our kids’ lives. It needs to become something that just happens, rather than something that has to be continuously enforced. Providing plenty of opportunities to head out and about together as a family or give your kids a little free reign to head out with mates and enjoy the independence that brings, will help encourage those habits that become a way of life.
- Preventing nature-deficit disorder. Yes, it is an actual thing. Basically, nature-deficit disorder is a loss of connection of humans to their natural environment. And despite our increased reliance on technology, screens and social media, we do not have to give in to this.
Let’s prove we can do both. Let’s spend time in the green, despite our digital world of the screen.
Martine is an accredited speaker with the Office of the eSafety Commission of Australia, has a background in secondary education, a Masters in Counselling and is a mother to 5 boys. Through her personal and professional work with families, she recognises the important role technology plays in the social and emotional wellbeing of young people.
Martine is a keynote speaker for parenting and education conferences, presents to parent groups, works regularly with students and provides professional development to teachers. She has a passionate interest in helping families safely navigate the modern world of parenting in a way that offers understanding as well as practical and realistic strategies to empower parents to teach, guide and support their children. She has recently released her new book “The Modern Parent: Raising a Great Kid in the Digital World” which is available for purchase from her website themodernparent.net