Tick, tock, tick, tock…
The second hand always seems to move that much slower when the weather is gorgeous and you’re stuck inside studying, only two weeks away from finals.
Your dry, stuffy room makes you want to take a nap rather than prep for that final presentation, study long equations or write those last couple pages in your essay. We have all been there too, fighting to stay awake on a Saturday afternoon to get in some precious study time.
But what if I told you that it could be better to stop what you’re doing and go outside? What if I told you there is research out there that links taking breaks and going outside can lead to boosts in attention span, creativity and memory? Along with a decrease in stress and anxiety. It’s true. Taking a break from the constant studying by going outside can lead to better results, and more time spent productively working once you return.
The University of Michigan’s psychology department conducted tests and experiments back in 2008 on primarily college students to see what the effects of taking an hour walk between study sessions would have on the mind.
The study concluded that by spending an hour outside, regardless of the temperature, individuals showed on average a 20 percent increase in their memory and attention span. The research also deduced that this could have huge implications on mental fatigue, something many of us can relate to at any stage in our lives.
One thing that stood out in this study, however, was that these positive results only happened when the subject interacted with nature for a minimum of twenty minutes. Walking around town, especially next to busy streets, showed little to no effect on memory and concentration.
Studying for finals can be nerve wracking, and those nerves are not doing anything to help set you up for success. Taking a walk or hike in nature can do more than just improve your memory and attention span, it significantly lowers your anxiety as well.
According to one study conducted at Stanford, taking a break to go interact with nature when you notice an increased rise in anxiety or negative thoughts can boost serotonin levels, leading to a happy, more productive you.
“This finding is exciting because it demonstrates the impact of nature experience on an aspect of emotion regulation – something that may help explain how nature makes us feel better,” said lead author of the study, Gregory Bratman.
Quick recap of what those two studies concluded: hiking or walking in nature boosts memory and attention span while lowering anxiety.
With those results, why wouldn’t you want to take a break mid study-sesh to go get some fresh air. Plus, I mean come one, it’s a break from work I’m pretty sure you would rather not be doing. That break, though, can lead to better results in the second half of your session.
Personally, I make sure to actually set aside some time if I know one weekend is going to be particularly bogged down with material. I also make sure to do something the week after I have a bunch of presentations, papers or just simple work due.
This pre-meditative step really helps me get through my week and prep for the week ahead. I know I have three massive presentations all coming up next week, with most of the workload being done this week. So, I set aside six hours Sunday to go hiking around Ancient Lakes and next weekend, the one before the presentation, I’ll be down in the Columbia River Basin hiking some peaks down there.
Some people might argue that going for walks or planning a hike right before a major event is a distraction, and takes away from time that could otherwise be spent preparing. However, if you’re at the point where your brain is turning to mush, is there really any point to powering through anyways?
Instead of listening to that clock tick the seconds by, beating a figurative dead horse with a stick, get up and go outside. You’ll come back to your work with more vigor and ideas then you had when you left.
If you have finals or any large event coming up in your life, good luck, and I implore you to consider setting some time aside to enjoy your life in a setting nature intended.
If you want to read about my hike at Ancient Lakes, check out my blog about it here: https://wanderingpnwcollegestudent.wordpress.com/2017/05/22/ancient-lakes/
And make sure to check out those studies I mentioned through the links down below!