It’s time to get out of the productivity box once again in a search for surprising new elements that can make our days at work better. In the past months, we discovered how coffee influences work efficiency, exercised our way into the flow, and learned to break the mental health paradigm at the workplace. Now, let’s take a deep dive into what nature has to offer.
Where we stand
After all these months of general turmoil, the world is not in a very happy place. According to the American Psychological Association, two out of three U.S. adults are noticing an increase in their stress levels as a result of this pandemic. The same survey found that chronic stress can also affect our ability to concentrate on tasks and maintain productivity. So much so, that 73 percent agree it’s difficult to think clearly and focus.
It has been a difficult year and, although we shall soon embark into a new cycle, there’s no end in sight for this pandemic. We still have a sanitary crisis on our hands, an economic one waiting to happen, boiling mental health issues everywhere due to social distancing measures, and on top of everything an acute need of face-to-face interaction.
Yet, we have an unexpected ally that could help us get through: nature!
I know this sounds a bit implausible given the context. However, the very same thing where it all began can also be of great assistance during these times. And the reason is quite simple. Because nature has a positive influence over our bodies.
According to Frontiers in Psychology, when the human brain is exposed to natural elements, there are many mental and physical health benefits, like for example:
- Reduced anxiety
- Lower blood pressure
- Increased energy
- Relieved muscle tension
- Calmer heart rate
- Better concentration
- Improved emotional balance
The question is: are you leveraging this productivity-boosting, stress-reducing tool?
Even before the pandemic, one in six Americans said they never spent time in nature, according to APM Research Lab survey. This lack is now further exacerbated by the need to social distance and remain inside as much as possible during COVID-19.
However, even in these circumstances, you can bring the outdoors inside into the office to stimulate productivity, brain function, and well-being. Here are a few ways to do it.
Use indoor plants
The actionable advice should rather be: use a lot of indoor plants! Many big companies, like Amazon and Apple for example, designed their headquarters with an indoor vertical garden. The reason is crystal clear–it motivates their teams. In fact, green spaces in the office can increase workers’ attention spans, productivity, and engagement by 15 percent, according to research from the University of Exeter.
Channel the same results in your own work environment. Populate your office or your work from home space with these little green wonders. You can choose from succulents, herbs or vegetables, pet-friendly plants, air plants (which do not require soil), aquatic plants, and more. Or you can purchase a subscription houseplant box shipped to your door each month.
Here’s just a little green corner near my desk. Life behind the blinds is full of color and nature for me and this brings lots of good vibes 🙂
And don’t worry too much about interior design or symmetries. Once you have the plants, just put them everywhere: on your desk, on the shelves, or directly on the window sill. And let them do their work!
Fill the space with natural materials
Another recent trend is the use of office décor and furniture made from natural materials such as unrefined wood, iron, stone, bamboo, or hemp fibers, along with decorating using blue or green colors and interior water fountains.
This is called biophilic design. A recent study in the journal Environment International found that workers in biophilic spaces recover from stress and anxiety quicker and perform cognitively better than their counterparts.
This is where you can unleash some creative freedom in your home or office decorating. Here are some fun, natural ideals:
- Turn a wooden slab into a DIY desk with metal legs.
- Cut down a wooden slab to make floating shelves.
- Hang pictures of nature scenes.
- Accessorize with blue or green accent pieces.
- Find a hemp or bamboo area rug to put underneath your desk.
- Use a chair made of sustainable wood or metal.
Use curtains to filter natural light
Have you ever noticed that your outlook tends to be more positive on a sunny morning than a cloudy one? Then you certainly know the influence natural light can have on our mood. Access to direct sunlight releases the brain’s chemical serotonin, which promotes a sense of calmness and satisfaction. It also helps relieve feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression, says Alice Park, a health and medicine reporter for Time.
To harness the power of natural light, position your desk so it faces the nearest window, then hang pale mesh curtains over that window. The curtain material should be fine and airy enough to filter in the natural light, while thick enough to obstruct UV rays and limit the view of distractions outside, keeping you both calm and focused.
Nature is your ally, not your foe
If your current levels of stress, focus, and productivity are lacking, get out in nature and also bring it inside to you. The impact this can have on both your mental and physical health is significant.
Put plants all over your work space, use natural elements to create the proper environment and take advantage of the sunlight to brighten up your days at work. All in all, simply leverage the power of nature to stay safe, healthy, and productive during this pandemic and afterwards.