How's work? If you dread answering this question or feel exhausted even thinking about it, you might be burnt out. It's a common problem for many of us. We might have felt burn-out, trauma, or despair at some point in our lives. No matter our occupation, it is crucial to acknowledge these difficult emotions and find solutions for them.
While some stress is acceptable, allowing your stress levels to spiral out of control can put you at risk of developing many physical and mental health problems.
So, what can you do to keep from reaching this point? Of course, there are numerous approaches to stress relief, and everyone will have their preferences based on what works best for them. However, if you want an effective, and, perhaps most importantly, free way to de-stress, spending time in nature may be your best bet. In dealing with these critical issues, we also look at Chana Widawski's inspiring story of healing her feelings through nature immersive experiences.
First, let's speak about burnout and mental health issues.
How do you know when you're experiencing burnout? You might feel tired and exhausted. You may not have the motivation to get out of bed in the morning, or you may dread going to work each day. You may find that you aren't doing as good a job at work as you used to, or you might feel like you're doing everything wrong. And when you think about your job, instead of feeling excited by it or proud of what you do, you might feel down on yourself and unhappy with your life overall.
If you've ever experienced burnout, you know how debilitating it can be. The symptoms are similar to those of depression, both mentally and physically, but they are more closely related to your job.
As of 2019, burnout is a global phenomenon. And there are important monetary factors to it, emphasizes governance adviser Helle Bank Jorgensen, referencing figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about employee depression resulting in more than 200 million USD lost workdays each year. Similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that depression and anxiety disorders cost about $1 trillion in lost productivity.
The combination of increasing global competition, digital devices that compel us to be online 24/7, and an ugly political environment is leaving most people feeling down, distressed, and disengaged. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the use of antidepressants has risen 400 percent since the mid-1990s and anxiety is at an all-time high. Contrary to the most common practices, however, we’ve learned through experience that scrolling through social media or visiting CNN’s website rarely helps us feel better. Nature does.
Chana's story of nature connection
I recently took a much-needed break from my job, which has many trauma-related challenges as a leader of movements addressing the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges.
My burnout was exacerbated by excessive screen time and always being "on."
On this break, I decided to be closer to nature, so I went on a wilderness canoe trip to Labyrinth Canyon.
The second day of our trip, which had begun with a fun paddle down the river, ended with us camped by its shores. It was magical to sit in my canoe and sing songs that made me feel at peace, like I was part of something bigger than myself.
While I sat on a rock in the canyon, my feet chilling in the water, I felt the power of our communal experience. Our guide shared his vulnerable self with us and read from his writings. Another member shared a poem critical of her evolution. Others stayed silent, taking it all in before we set off for an afternoon on our own — or with others — whatever felt right for each person.
The decision to come to this trip was for some, driven by the need for inspiration, connection, and meaning. Some people were forced to go on the trip by their partners or friends; others chose to go because they knew how much it would mean to them. Even though some of us weren't comfortable with the idea at first, we all grew to love it by the end of the journey. After this journey, I know I feel the most alive when I'm in nature.
Although it's difficult to put into words the feelings that come with these moments, I am grateful for the times when I can feel them and draw on those feelings to guide me in my busy New York City life.
Chana's essentials for the best nature exposure
There are many elements to consider when choosing an immersive experience in nature. For Chana, this was a guided group experience. However, if going to nature on your own, we can draw these recommendations from her experience:
Physical activity and good nutrition
Activities such as paddling, hiking, and stretching are great additions to nature immersive trips. In addition to going outdoors, try to include active movement and make sure that you eat nutritious foods.
Taking a long trip can be an opportunity to reflect on your motivations and desires and to practice new habits. You might also feel inspired by nature's metaphors that can help shape your work-life boundaries. A special photo, rock, or dried flower could continue to inspire you for years.
Using phones as cameras can be helpful, but disconnecting from technology can be game-changing. Being fully present and connecting with nature’s pulse and our own enables us to have a better appreciation of the world around us.
Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, it is essential to find time alone and with others. Time spent in stillness and motion, in silence and sound, can provide you with refreshment for both the body and the mind.
Environment and flow
Spending time in natural settings can be transformative. From the smells, patterns, rhythms, and indescribable beauty on the outside to the internal stillness and playful movement inspired internally. If possible, choose an ecosystem that is new to you. Being in the presence of such a vital life source can be healing and thought-provoking.
To learn more about Chana's story, visit her full article here.
Nature exposure to soothe mental overload
While research shows that nature exposure improves brain function and reduces stress, even in limited doses, immersive nature experiences can be life-changing. The World Economic Forum says that companies get a $4 return on investment for every $1 spent on mental health care and initiatives in the workplace.
In the fantastic book, The Nature Fix, journalist Florence Williams shows that nature not only makes us feel better subjectively but also measurably reduces our stress-response systems. A study from the University of Michigan suggested that nature is the ideal setting for creativity and clear thinking. Citing Attention Restoration Theory, Williams writes in The Nature Fix, “Nature lulls us with soft fascination, helping to rest our top-down, direct-attention faculties” — or the parts of our brain that are involved in effortful thinking, which are constantly triggered by the stimuli of urban environments. “With that restoration,” Williams writes, “we become more relaxed and can perform thinking tasks better.” In layperson’s terms: nature makes you smarter.
Researchers at the University of Michigan found that simply viewing pictures of nature can have a positive effect on mental performance and stress reduction. In one study, they had undergraduates complete a baseline test to measure attention and effortful-thinking ability (memorizing a string of numbers and reciting them backwards, and making quick decisions based on cues that were momentarily flashed). Next, they completed about 35 minutes worth of tasks designed to fatigue those same abilities, such as solving tricky puzzles and responding to various stimuli as fast as possible. Then, the students were instructed to take a break during which they were shown a series of 50 pictures of either natural or urban environments. Only those who viewed the nature pictures improved their performance on repeat tests of attention and effortful-thinking.
Our natural inclination toward nature is a product of our deep history as a species; we evolved in nature, and cannot help but feel at home there. This is the basis for “biophilia,” a hypothesis proposed by Harvard entomologist E. O. Wilson. Wilson believes that since we grew up in nature, we are biologically programmed to be drawn to it — which explains why modern urban living sometimes seems unnatural and uncomfortable for us, despite its conveniences.
Scientists in Japan wanted to find out how the body reacts to two different types of walks. They found that, compared to walking through an urban environment, walking through nature has a significantly more positive effect on your body: it reduces cortisol levels, diminishes sympathetic nerve activity, and decreases both blood pressure and heart rate.
Immersive nature experiences connect us to our inner wisdom, intuition, emotions, consciousness, and imagination. These qualities erode over time in our work. Reclaiming them can reconnect us to our purpose in a deep way, tap into our strengths and help us inspire others through a different kind of organizing presence.
Self-care habit: Going to nature
Going outside is not just for those who are humbled by nature. An immersive natural experience can be a life-changing investment that provides mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical balance. It also impacts our entire beings and our work.
You might think that an immersive nature experience is a luxury, but it's actually a healing balm for the soul and brain—and a necessary ingredient for a sustainable future.
- Chana Widawski
At the end of the day, it's all about balance. "We often misconstrue the idea of attending to our self-care as somehow being selfish," Dr. Borland says. "And it's not". I often remind my patients that to be the best friend, spouse, parent, or child, you have to attend to your self-care. If your tank is empty, you can't be the type of person you want to be to these others in your life."
It’s easy to let life get in the way of nature. But when we carve out the time to go out there, it can magnify our sense of self, the power of unity and community, and the interconnectedness of it all. It truly is the ultimate gift. These experiences keep us flowing.
- Chana Widawski
In conclusion, taking a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life and immersing yourself in nature can be a game changer when it comes to dealing with burnout. Nature has a way of helping us relax, recharge and reconnect with ourselves. Plus, it's a great way to get some exercise and fresh air, all while enjoying the beauty of the world around us. Whether it's a hike in the mountains, a walk in the park or just sitting and enjoying the view, nature has a way of putting things into perspective and providing a sense of calm. So, next time you're feeling burned out, don't hesitate to take a break and spend some time in nature. It's good for the mind, body and soul.