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How the great outdoors can alleviate burnout and improve mental health

It takes about 120 minutes of weekly exposure to natural settings to boost well-being and a healthier mindset. Picture by Hillary Ungson/unsplash

It takes about 120 minutes of weekly exposure to natural settings to boost well-being and a healthier mindset. Picture by Hillary Ungson/unsplash

Published Jul 26, 2023


Did you know that in a study of nearly 500,000 people across 64 countries, South Africans were ranked with the highest percentage of the population who are distressed or struggling with their mental health?

It’s no secret that constant workplace stress can be a severe issue and lead to poor employee morale or mental health.

It takes approximately 120 minutes of weekly exposure to natural settings to boost well-being and a healthier mindset. So just one way employers can improve employee well-being is by taking their teams away from the mundane office environment, and invigorating teams through team building, think tanks and conferences in more tranquil environments

Exposure to the outdoors has been shown to reduce stress levels and promote relaxation. The sights, sounds, and smells of nature have a soothing effect on the brain and can help individuals disconnect from work-related stressors.

Spending time in natural settings lowers cortisol levels, the hormone associated with stress, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation.

Research has consistently shown that spending time in nature can have a positive impact on mental health. It reduces symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.

The outdoor environment provides a break from the constant demands and pressure of work, allowing individuals to focus on themselves and their well-being.

The outdoors offers opportunities for physical activity, which is known to benefit mental health. Engaging in activities like hiking, cycling, or team sports not only provides exercise for the body but also releases endorphins, the hormones responsible for feelings of happiness and well-being.

Physical activity in nature also supports the connection between the mind and body, further promoting mental and emotional well-being.

‘’We are seeing a growing trend of executives and corporate teams wanting to explore company getaways in relaxing wild terrains, such as the Kruger National Park. The world-famous beauty of the park provides teams with a serene backdrop to take a break from the traditional confines of inner-city work conferences and events.

“This awe-inspiring untouched landscape inspires innovative conversation, encourages adventure, fosters a deeper sense of team unity and provides a one-of-a-kind environment for team-building activities,’’ explains Anton Gillis, CEO at Kruger Gate Hotel.

Engaging in outdoor activities together fosters camaraderie, strengthens relationships, and enhances communication among team members. These positive social connections can contribute to a supportive work environment and improve overall well-being, said Gillis.

He added: “As some employers are navigating the post-pandemic office landscape, and contemplating the hybrid or fully in-office debate, bringing your teams to an engrossing new setting could be a strategic approach to igniting the passion in your company face-to-face.”

Each year The Future of Jobs Report, by the World Economic Forum, looks into how jobs and skills will develop in upcoming years. The 2023 report revealed that creative and analytical approaches to thinking continue to be the most significant skills for employees to have today.

‘’What could be better than taking employees away from their desks, and re-energising their creative thinking talents in a magnificent wild landscape?

“By taking teams out of the mundane everyday office setting, and into exciting environments like the bush, employers can give their employees an unparalleled opportunity to explore new creative ideas together, refresh overall inspiration and come back to the office with unforgettable bonds,’’ Gillis shared.

Spending time in nature has been shown to improve cognitive function, including attention, memory, and creativity. Exposure to natural environments provides mental stimulation, fostering divergent and creative thinking. It can also improve focus and attention, which can be depleted by the constant demands of work.

Even short breaks in natural settings can lead to improved cognitive performance and productivity.

Immersing oneself in nature promotes mindfulness and presence. The sensory experiences of the outdoors, such as feeling the breeze, hearing bird songs, or observing the natural beauty, can anchor individuals in the present moment.

This practice of mindfulness can reduce rumination and excessive thinking about work-related concerns, leading to a sense of calm and mental clarity.

“Outside of work employees take on other roles within their personal lives - some may be parents, or taking care of a family member. Differing unique employee circumstances could require a need to have more flexible work hours or arrangements.

“Management teams could make a massive impact on employee well-being by being open to a more adaptable and balanced working environment,” said Gillis.

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