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Burnout: why spending 10 minutes in nature could be the key to keeping your stress levels under control

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Lauren Geall
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According to a study by a team of researchers at Cornell University, spending just 10 minutes in nature has the potential to reduce the effects of physical and mental stress. 

Whether you’ve found yourself working excessive overtime while WFH, had to deal with financial insecurity or struggled to cope with the isolation of lockdown, it would be an understatement to say the last 12 months have left us all feeling a bit stressed out.

While experiencing a small amount of stress is normal, especially considering the current circumstances, allowing your stress levels to get out of control could put you at risk of developing burnout – an “occupational phenomenon” that can lead to a number of physical and mental health issues. So, what can you do to protect yourself from reaching this stage?

Of course, there are a wide variety of ways to go about relieving stress, and everyone will have their own preferences based on what works best for them. But if you’re looking for a quick, effective and, perhaps most importantly, free way to destress, then spending time in nature could be your best bet.  

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Yep, you read that right. According to a 2020 study by a team of scientists at Cornell University, spending just 10 minutes in a “natural setting” could have the potential to make us feel happier and lessen the effects of our mental and physical stress.  

The research, which was published in Frontiers in Psychology, was completed by reviewing studies that examined the effects of nature on people of university age, in order to discover how much time should be spent outside in order to reduce stress, and what activities were most beneficial.

According to the study, just sitting in nature for 10 minutes has the same affect as going for a walk – meaning that eating our lunch outside has the potential to help us deal with the daily stress we experience at work. And this 10 minutes doesn’t just make us less stressed; the researchers found that 10-50 minutes in any natural space was the most effective to improve mood, focus and physiological markers like blood pressure and heart rate. 

A park bench
Could a 10 minute trip to the park during our lunch break have the power to reduce the effect of stress?

The study also explains how we can all use this stress-relieving technique, even if we live in the centre of a city. Apparently, the “nature” we spend time in doesn’t have to be a 50-acre forest – it can be something as simple as a grassy park or garden.

“This is an opportunity to challenge our thinking around what nature can be,” said the lead author of the study, Gen Meredith. “It is really all around us: trees, a planter with flowers, a grassy quad or a wooded area.”

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Spending time in nature isn’t just good news for your health – it can help the planet, too

Of course, this isn’t the first time a study has proved how beneficial spending time in nature can be. Also last year, a study from the University of Plymouth found that spending time outside has the potential to make us more environmentally friendly. And last year, research from The National Trust found that listening to natural sounds – whether that’s birdsong or the rustle of leaves in the trees – can make us feel 30% more relaxed.

However, while it’s well-known that spending time around nature is good for your mental health, it’s great to know that you don’t need to have access to acres upon acres of green space to reap the benefits for yourself.

And because you only need to take 10 minutes out of your day to get started, there are plenty of ways to fit this time in nature into your daily routine, whether it’s heading to the park to eat lunch or going for a walk around a local leafy spot. 

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This article was originally published in February 2020 and has since been updated throughout.

Images: iStock/Unsplash

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.

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