If you’ve spent some time on TikTok or Twitter this summer, you’ve probably heard people being told to “go touch grass.” This admonition to the chronically online is better advice than those giving it might think. Getting caught up online or with school can be stressful, but making time to be outside and experience nature can have many benefits, including reduced stress and improved cognitive and creative function.
One easy way to maximize the benefits of being outdoors is going barefoot in the grass–something researchers call “grounding.” Grounding can reduce stress and improve overall health in several ways. In an article for the Journal of Inflammation Research, James Oschman and Gaetan Chevalier present research showing that a direct connection to the earth’s negative electronic charge can be beneficial in reducing inflammation and can be a source of valuable antioxidants. Grounding can also help lower anxiety levels by regulating the automatic nervous system.
Grounding and spending time outdoors helps synchronize the internal clock. This clock, also called the circadian rhythm, regulates when you are awake, alert or sleepy. If you spend excessive time looking at a screen or being surrounded by bright, artificial lights, your body loses track of what time it is. This disconnect can cause you to experience trouble falling asleep at night or getting up in the morning. Being outside in natural light allows your body to adjust itself to its natural rhythm of sleeping during the night and being alert during the day, according to a study done by Stanford Medicine. Time in nature can also help improve the quality of sleep. If you have 8:00 am classes this semester, being outside during the day could help you be more alert and learn more in class the next morning.
Spending time outdoors can also help improve cognitive function. In their article “Creativity in the Wild,” Ruth Atchley, David Strayer, and Paul Atchley explain Attention Restoration Theory; the idea that our prefrontal cortex, which controls our attention ability, can become worn out with overuse. The high pace and high attention environment we experience on the internet can deteriorate our attention abilities. To restore attention, we must spend time in slow environments. Immersing in nature is a perfect way to achieve this, as it demands slow and careful fascination. Researchers suggest hiking without bringing your phone, strolling and taking time to examine anything you find interesting to rest and replenish your attention system.
Time spent in nature can also improve introspection and creative thinking abilities. Acthley et al. explain that letting your attention rest as you walk through the woods allows your mind to wander, activating the frontal lobe and allowing for thoughtful contemplation. Spending time outdoors develops neural pathways for creative thinking and self-examination, which you can use in any part of life, including school!
With this research in mind, spend some time outdoors this semester. You don’t even have to go off campus! Try bringing a picnic blanket to the fountain and finding a soft, shady place to relax. While you’re out there, enjoy some barefoot grounding time. Breathe deeply and take some moments to not think about school. If you like getting off campus, try hiking at First Landing state park. The beautiful trails provide the perfect opportunity to put away your phone, allowing your attention to relax and your mind to wander. Finally, as every Regent student knows, the beach is the perfect place to decompress after a long week of classes. Sandbridge has beautiful beaches and plenty of nature, making it a great spot to unwind.
As we begin classes, try making an intentional effort to be outdoors. It can help you relax, improve your sleep, give you a refreshing break from studying and improve your performance in class. At Regent, we are lucky to be surrounded by beautiful nature, so make the most of it!