Written by Catherine Mallia
With exam season upon us, how many feel the familiar burnout from a busy semester but somehow need to dig up those last scraps of energy for the final sprint to the finish line?
So many times, I’ve sat at my desk prepared for a day of studying, staring out the window at birds hopping through my garden, and lamented at the scribbled to-dos and piled up folders, textbooks highlighted and bookmarked, scrunched up notes I’ve gotten frustrated with, all calling for more space in my overflowing brain.
Surely there’s a more motivating way, right? If you haven’t already tried it, getting outside may just work for you.
It’s a bit more work though. It involves packing up your stuff, rugging up when it’s cold, making sure your laptop is charged, and finding the perfect spot, instead of the comfort of your study, or bed, where all your stuff is already set up, so why bother? Keep reading and see if I can convince you.
First, we could all use some time in nature
‘Nature deficit disorder’ is a term introduced by Richard Louv in his 2005 book The Last Child in the Woods and has gained traction since, describing our increased reliance on electronics indoors and increasing disconnect with nature. Probably an experience most Uni students are all too familiar with when cramming for exams or meeting assignment deadlines.
We miss out on so much though when we’re inside from sun-up to sun-down. Research into the positive impacts of nature on humans is extensive and building. From the well-established vitamin D to things as simple as fresh, flowing, oxygen-rich air, to the unexplainable connection and sense of peace.
How much better do you feel when you’ve spent an hour or two sitting outside in the sunshine, or even the overcast gloom, but have a view of an open green field, towering trees, or babbling waterways with bobbing ducklings floating past.
The benefit here is obvious, I suppose, it just makes us feel calm.
Stress relief and sense of calm
Humans have felt an innate calmness and inherent connection to nature since forever. There is a growing body of research documenting the physical and mental health effects being outdoors in natural spaces has on us. Effects such as reduced blood pressure, feeling less stress, and improved mental health, could potentially be achieved in 30 minutes or more of green space immersion per week.
Couple this with 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation when you get there to really soak up the sounds, smells and colours and you’ll be starting your study session with a clear and calm mind, slower heart rate and better focus.
I have a handful of favourite spots where I can be alone, spread out on my rug, and highlight paragraphs to my hearts’ content. Do you have anywhere near you? Or is it worth a short drive somewhere? Do some research, safe green spaces are everywhere when you start searching.
Not convinced yet? What about these study-specific benefits…
Improves attention, concentration, and retention of information
You’ve been staring at your screen for hours, flicking between tabs, drifting in and out of focus, made too many coffees, and snacked on too many leftover Easter eggs. Your shoulders have tightened up, words no longer make sense, and time pressure’s creeping in, worrying you’re not absorbing as much as you should be with an exam looming.
The issue with studying in the same space with the same surroundings (and same opportunities for procrastination) is that it can become tedious, monotonous and boring – all of the things learning should not be!
Moving to a new space provides novelty so your attention is already refocusing, but a literature review from 2019 found a clear connection between learning outside and improved attention and concentration, amongst other benefits. Some research into studying maths and biology outdoors found that content learned in outdoor spaces was held on to longer than the same content learned inside.
Weirdly enough, even though there is so much to see and do outdoors, the mind seems to be less distracted in open spaces, and the distractions are usually welcomed breaks from staring at words and making notes. I mean, who doesn’t love staring at ducks?
So, if this idea appeals, next time you have a long study day ahead, try to find a suitable spot, pack some brain food, a flask of coffee, and your picnic rug, and bring the books outside for a breath of fresh air, and a new look at your old study notes.
Good luck with exams everyone!