2016 has been a rough year. Full of ups and downs, joy and sadness. But as it comes to a close, and we begin to show signs of being desperate for a break both physically and emotionally, it occurred to me that integrating time to ‘switch off’ is becoming almost a means to survival in our society.
Holidays should be about slowing down, not speeding up.
Many of us are guilty of trying to cram as much as possible into our vacation time. Theme parks, relatives, outings, sight seeing…it’s usually done at the speed of light, arriving home more exhausted than when we left. So what’s the solution when you want to have a holiday full of memories, and being stuck in the hotel room playing cards for days at a time is not your idea of fun?
Why not experience getting out into nature? Whether that means camping, caravaning, staying in a cabin or simply going bushwalking – it’s all about switching off. Leave the phone, the tablet and the laptop safely at home. Take the kids, and get to know the local bushland, parks and picnic grounds. Spending time out in nature allows us to notice the small things…and be grateful for them. A nice sunny day, the beautiful smile your child gives you when they spot a wild animal up close, the way the birds sing first thing in the morning, the sound of the wind in the trees. It almost becomes a sort of meditation.
The health benefits of being more ‘in tune’ with nature
Our ancestors shared a deep reverence for the cycles of the year. The moon waxing and waning, the seasons, and the movement of the stars and planets. Most of Western society has lost touch with this knowledge. But the further we recede from our origins and connection with the natural world, the more our mental and physical health suffer. Scientific research consistently shows us that those who feel more connected to nature are happier, more environmentally conscious, and are more likely to sustain better mental health (1).
Children benefit enormously from time spent exposed to the natural environment. Various studies indicate a clear improvement in attention, empathy and overall health (including vitamin D status) when exposed to outdoor play on a regular basis. The same effects have been noted in adults, particularly in relation to reduction in stress response, anxiety and greater feelings of wellbeing. (3)
More connected does not mean less isolated.
It’s a strange phenomenon: Despite our level of connectivity, so many of us feel more isolated than ever. Our friends ‘perfect’ lives are plastered all over Facebook, Instagram, and so forth; and naturally we start feeling inadequate. But no-one talks about the bad stuff; no-one wants to post about just losing their job or not having enough money to pay the bills.
And yet, how many times does the average person look at Facebook per day? It’s rare for us to actually pick up the phone or physically plan a catch up with a friend we haven’t seen for ages – but we’ll converse on Facebook and portray whatever image we think the rest of the world wants to see. Feelings of isolation, inadequacy and loneliness are the result.
But consider this: What we see and do on social media is a facade.
Studies on the use of social media sites by adolescents show a definite correlation between usage and the development of depressive disorders. In one particular paper, the authors postulate that the human tendency toward persistent need for self-evaluation, promotion of narcissistic behaviour and the constant competitive environment of social media may contribute to this disturbing trend (2).
The digital detox
The holidays are a perfect time to disconnect from digital & social media, work emails, and other technological distractions in order to reconnect with family, friends and loved ones. Make the time to go out into nature and discover things about your environment you never knew existed. Involve the kids, have good old-fashioned family outings.
Reaping the benefits of a more nature-connected, stress-free existence may be even more important to our modern way of life than we ever realised. Taking time to switch off from our devices, especially at this time of year, can help us to regain our inner balance and start the New Year filled with inspiration, gratitude and a more positive way of being.
(1) Zelenski, J.M & Zelenski, J. M., & Nisbet, E. K. (2014). Happiness and Feeling Connected The Distinct Role of Nature Relatedness. Environment and Behavior, 46(1), 3-23.
(2) Pantic, I. (2014). Online Social Networking and Mental Health. Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking. Oct 1; 17(10): 652–657.
(3) Pearson, D.G & Craig, T. (2014). The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. Frontiers in Psychology. 5: 1178