If the sight of grass and the sound of birds immediately put us at ease, our tech does the opposite. Even though scrolling through social media or reading an article online seems like a relaxing enough way to spend a few minutes, the psychologists I’ve talked to agree that it drains cognitive resources.
“People use those activities as a break–as a way to relax or de-stress. And what’s actually happening is that those activities are putting them at an even greater attentional deficit,” Jason Duvall, Ph.D., a lecturer at the University of Michigan Program in the Environment, tells me. “If you have people take cognitive functioning tests before and after those activities, it’s very likely they would perform worse afterward.”
On the other hand, looking at greenery for as little as forty seconds at a time seems to improve mental capacity, based on findings from Australia. In that research, 150 university students took cognition tests after looking over a computer image of a bare patch of roof or a green roof covered in a garden for forty-second spurts. On average, the students who looked at the green roof image made fewer errors after their microbreaks than those who looked at the bare roof: proof that sometimes letting yourself rest (with nature in sight) is the most productive thing you can do.
So instead of mindlessly scrolling (which might not be so mindless after all), take your next short break from work, chores, childcare, and so forth in a park or patch of grass if you have one near home. If you can’t get outside, look out the window for a minute or so and just let the mind settle on any green you can see.