I fly quite often. One thing I notice is that each time the wheels hit the runway the smartphones come out. Nearly everyone on the plane is looking down at their screen checking messages and scrolling through social media. I’m one of them. One time, a guy across the aisle from me must have switched off airplane mode at 2000 feet, because his phone was pinging notifications like crazy even before we hit the ground.
The worldwide average for internet-connected screen time is 6 hours and 37 minutes per day. I’m not complaining. Most of my best work is done this way. The challenge is, screen time exhausts your eyes, body and mind. It also increases risk of chronic health conditions such as depression, anxiety and migraines.
So what can you do? Fortunately, God provides. The answer is God’s Creation, or nature.
In her book,The Nature Fix, Florence Williams details the science behind how nature can renew us physically, emotionally and cognitively. The restorative power of nature is so great that countries as diverse as Japan, South Korea, Finland and Singapore have significant national efforts to increase the accessibility of nature and the amount of time their citizens spend in it.
Nature is God’s fix for our weary minds and bodies. We’re wired so that when we connect with God’s created order, it renews and restores us. We’re not going to give up our screens. But we can balance it with green.
Here are two things you can do.
First, Take Breaks with Nature. As little as five minutes with nature can begin to relax your brain. Fifteen minutes or more will reduce cortisol levels and begin to restore cognitive function. The good news is even if you can’t get outside, just looking outside can have similar effects. And, if you can’t do that, look at a picture of nature (especially greenery), even that is proven to reduce stress.
My own routine is to go outside for five minutes about once per hour. Getting outside, breathing deeply, feeling sunshine and viewing the trees and water does me good. Then I’m ready to get back to work.
Second, aim for a total of Five Hours per Month spent outside. This has become the national standard in Finland. Their studies show that this is the minimum amount of time needed to consistently result in elevated mood and reduced depression.
Of course exercising, whether walking, running, biking or rowing will give even greater benefit. But even activities such as yard work will help. The bacteria in dirt has been shown to increase serotonin levels, which increases feelings of relaxation and happiness.
There are other ways to get outside without exercising. Sitting on a park bench. Having a picnic. Strolling through a garden. Find what works for you and get five hours per month.
God’s Creation can help you be your best as a church leader. It’s free. And it works.