Freeport, ME, March 24, 2021
A New Kind of Spring Cleaning: How time outside can ease mental fatigue and burn out
It’s almost impossible to overstate the cognitive weight of the past year—COVID-19 was the steady backdrop to a summer of social unrest, natural disasters ranging from tornadoes to snowstorms, and a deafening political divisiveness. And depending on where you live, add to that a touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder—aptly referred to as SAD—after a long, gray winter.
That’s… a lot. And under such conditions, our brains get sluggish. We forget things. We misremember. We make mistakes. We don’t have the mental energy to complete simple tasks. (This is your reminder that you can, indeed, return that book to the library.) What we could really use, is a good reset.
And what better time for some cognitive cleaning that spring? Green grass. Pink and purple flowers. Bluer skies. Sun showers. Just meditating on these images can lower your blood pressure—so imagine what time outside in the presence of spring’s beauty can do to clear out that mental fatigue.
Stephen Kaplan, late Emeritus Professor of Psychology at University of Michigan, devoted much of his research to how humans interact with the natural environment. His work on Attention Restoration Theory suggested that spending time outdoors can improve our mood and self-esteem, decrease our stress levels, and increase vitality. One of the reasons outlined by Kaplan is how nature helps us to recover from “directed attention fatigue,” described as, “Any time one has worked intensely on a project and subsequently finds oneself mentally exhausted….” Sounds familiar, right?
We can find peace and inspiration knowing that the antidote to 2020-induced mental stress and fatigue is just outside. Time in nature literally restores our attention after all the energy we’ve exerted navigating the trails and tribulations of the past year. So while you’re cleaning out your closets and junk drawers this spring, consider how a little time outdoors can help you unclutter your mind—clearing out space for the things that matter most.