Do you ever look out of the window and crave being outside? Nature is a great way to unplug from your everyday life, especially since most of us spend the majority of our time indoors. Being in nature often reminds us of summer holidays or weekends away, which is one reason why we wish we could be out and about more often. Another reason is that nature has the power to improve our health; even going on a quick walk can decrease stress and improve our mood, as well as lead to a range of long-term benefits. What’s more, there’s plenty of evidence that being surrounded by nature can inspire creativity. Keep reading to find out how.
4 Ways Being in Nature Can Help You Improve Creativity
Even if you’re a creative person, you might struggle to find inspiration sometimes and create as much as you’d like to. Luckily, there’s a simple solution to your creative block: going outside. Here’s how nature can help you recover when you feel stuck:
1. It improves creative reasoning
As technology begins to dominate our lives more and more, very few people have the chance to be regularly surrounded by nature and tend to spend too much time sitting in front of their laptops. While this kind of lifestyle negatively impacts our physical health, not everyone realizes that being stuck inside can also affect the way our brain works.
According to the Attention Restoration Theory, exposure to nature can help us restore some of the lower cognitive functions such as selective attention or multitasking, which also suggests that it might have the potential to improve higher cognitive functions such as creative problem-solving. This theory was tested in research conducted by psychologists from the University of Kansas and Utah who subjected participants to immersion in nature with no technology and other distractions available.  Upon completion of the study, the participants were tested on using word associations that require some level of creativity. The exercise showed that in just four days, everyone’s creative performance increased by 50%.
These kinds of findings could be easily explained; nature is a relaxing environment free of sudden stimuli. For example, in daily life we encounter many distractions such as cars passing by or ringing phones which make it difficult to maintain attention and require us to use all our cognitive resources all the time. On the other hand, nature is associated with more predictable, gentler stimuli such as the sound of birds or water. If you’re currently struggling to find inspiration and experiencing a creative block, consider taking a walk to the nearest park and try to be present in the moment (more on this later). And if your work doesn’t allow you to take frequent walks, buying a plant can help. One study researched how work environments affect creativity and found that the presence of plans or even an outdoor view are factors responsible for improved creative performance.  Even taking some time to look at the photos of nature on your laptop can be beneficial to your health.
2. It improves your mood
Findings from numerous studies show that being in nature has a positive impact on our mental health. For example, research from 2017 investigated the impact of forest therapy on mental health and found that after a follow-up participants had lower anxiety, hostility, depression, confusion and fatigue scores, which translated into better well-being in general.  Unfortunately, it is estimated that a person spends on average 90% of their time indoors and being stuck inside also means that your creative juices can’t flow as well as they’re supposed to.
While some might believe that creativity goes hand in hand with depressive states because many famous authors and musicians had mental health issues, there’s no strong evidence that negative affect can improve your creativity in any way. On the contrary, it can decrease it. While doing something creative can be a great outlet for those who suffer from mental distress, mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression are often associated with brain fog which stands in the way of the creative process. What’s more, studies show that enjoying better mental well-being can make you more creative in general. For example, in the research published in 2008 in Psychological Bulletin, it was found that a positive affect associated with high arousal such as experiencing joy is linked to enhanced creativity.  Since being surrounded by nature can generate such positive feelings, it can be concluded that spending time outside promotes creativity. Similarly, when you’re feeling down, you might not be in the mood to create and might struggle to find inspiration, which is what spending time in nature can help with.
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3. It puts you in a meditative mindset
How often are you able to unplug after a long day at work without using electronic devices? Most of us tend to relax by scrolling on our phones or watching TV, which means that our brains are constantly engaged. By contrast, being surrounded by nature encourages you to stay present in the moment without overstimulating your brain. There are no unnecessary distractions so you’re more likely to pay attention to your surroundings and be aware of your thoughts. A number of studies show how the natural environment can put you in a meditative state. For example, one of the studies monitored participants’ brains using an electroencephalogram (EEG) as they walked through an urban area.  EEG readings indicated high meditation levels and lower frustration and engagement. When you no longer have to multitask, that’s when you give your brain a chance to recover and use its creative resources. Similarly, according to the blue mind theory, people fall into a meditative estate when they’re near water. For example, looking at the ocean can generate a sense of peace and help you see the bigger picture. When you’re surrounded by nature, your problems seem to no longer matter as much and you’re able to let go of expectations and societal pressure, and be what you want to be, which gives you more creative freedom.
If you feel like you’re running out of creative ideas but can’t go for a walk, you can always try meditating to restore your energy. Even listening to a guided meditation for 10 minutes per day can be beneficial – bonus points if you can find one with white noise.
4. It improves your memory
Another health benefit of being surrounded by nature is improved memory. Researchers from Michigan University studied the way spending time in nature might influence cognition and found that participants’ memory and attention improved by 20% after they spent an hour walking around the city and taking in sights such as botanical gardens.  Interestingly, the effect was the same regardless of the weather, although walking in winter was less enjoyable for obvious reasons.
But what does it have to do with creativity? Memory plays a crucial role in creativity; every time you engage in a creative task, your brain has to find the memories that can help you complete it. For example, when you’re writing poetry, you have to rely on previously memorized information on how to structure a poem and when you play sports, your body relies on muscle memory to allow you to perform to the best of your abilities. If you’re working on a project and get stuck, going outside for a short walk can be enough to help you unwind and allow your brain to have a break.
How to Spend More Time Surrounded by Nature When You Can’t Go Outside
Not everyone is fortunate enough to live by the forest or a park and find the time for weekly hiking trips. Luckily, there are many subtle ways in which you can connect with nature and benefit from it at the same time.
1. Invest in house plants
Buying a house plant can turn your home into a productive and relaxing environment. Plants not only promote better breathing and are great air purifiers but have been shown to reduce stress and increase sleep. When you’re well-rested and relaxed, you’re more likely to come up with creative ideas and have the mental energy to work on them, so it’s a win-win. Plus, plants make your space look more homely and inviting in general.
2. Listen to white noise
The effects of nature aren’t limited to visual stimuli. Recent research suggests that listening to natural sounds might have a positive impact on your well-being as well. For example, a Stockholm study found that exposure to pleasant auditory stimulation can help recover from psychological stress so next time you need to relax and be creative, consider listening to the sound of rain or any other sound you enjoy.  And if you want to strengthen the effect, you can always pair white noise up with a picture you associate with those sounds. This can help you improve your mood and increase your creativity as a result.
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3. Look out of the window
It's not quite the same as being outside but it’s a great alternative if you don’t have any other option. Even looking out of the window for a few minutes can generate a sense of peace and ground you in the present. The more you focus on what you can see, the higher the benefits will be. You can learn how to be more mindful in the later section.
4. Change your desktop
Do you spend the majority of your time staring at the screen? Even a small change such as updating your desktop and setting a photo of a waterfall or forest can help your brain have a little rest.
How to Be More Mindful When Spending Time in Nature
Now you know that being surrounded by nature has numerous health benefits. However, to get the best out of that time, it’s important to learn how to be present in the moment and really connect with your environment. Here’s how to be more mindful:
1. Engage all your senses
Having a walk in the park but allowing yourself to be too absolved in your thoughts won’t help you relax and might even increase your stress. Instead, you should gently bring yourself back to the present whenever your mind tries to wander and try to focus on your surroundings. For example, you can name a few things you can see (such as the sky or people), feel (the ground under your feet or the wind on your skin), hear (birds chirping or kids laughing) and smell (the grass) to stay more grounded.
2. Switch off your electronics
Electronics can prevent you from achieving inner peace. Being surrounded by nature is the perfect opportunity to forget about the virtual world and focus on what’s around you. Turn off your phone or keep it on silent to avoid distractions and enjoy the present moment. If you find it difficult to sit still without any stimulation, you can always start by reading a book or stretching and practicing being mindful this way.
3. Take a break on a bench
And while you do, try to describe what your surroundings are like in more detail. For example, you can look at the trees and name what colors you can see, consider how you would describe the shape of the leaves and so on. The point is to label what you can see around you to and become more aware of the present moment.
4. Put yourself in a state of flow
Participate in something active while being in nature and immerse yourself in it completely. For example, while you jog around the park, try not to focus on what you can see around you but concentrate on moving your body instead. Notice the way your feet hit the ground and the sound of your breath. You can apply this technique to any other exercise you do.
As the summer is finally here, remember to take advantage of the good weather and don’t skip spending time in nature.
Learn more about contributor, Joanna Cakala