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TRENDING SCIENCE: Fresh air, shut screens beat lockdown blues, study says

Going outdoors and switching off screens lead to more happiness during the COVID-19 crisis.

Fundamental Research

Mental health continues to be a focal topic with many European countries tightening measures, imposing further restrictions and reimposing lockdowns as the coronavirus pandemic surges to begin 2021. New research published in the ‘Journal of Happiness Studies’ reveals that spending time in green spaces and turning off the TV, computer and smartphone will radically improve our well-being. Going outdoors more often and minimising screen time is linked to higher levels of happiness during the pandemic.

Nature and digital detox

“While lockdowns can help slow down the transmission of COVID-19, research has also shown that prolonged periods of lockdown take their toll on mental health,” commented co-lead author Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at the United Kingdom’s Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in a news release. “Our results are important in this context because they show that being able to spend time outdoors under conditions of lockdown has a beneficial impact on psychological wellbeing. Being outdoors provides opportunities to escape from the stresses of being confined at home, maintain social relationships with others, and engage in physical activity – all of which can improve mental health.” Researchers from ARU, the Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences in Austria and Perdana University in Malaysia studied how being outdoors impacted happiness levels during a national lockdown, daily doses of screen time and feelings of loneliness. They monitored 286 people in April 2020 to track their mood during a strict lockdown. Findings showed that the participants were happier when they were outdoors as opposed to being in front of a screen or on a mobile device. What they did while outdoors didn’t influence happiness. In addition, more daily screen time was linked to lower levels of happiness, irrespective of whether they were indoors or outdoors.

Get out there

The researchers believe that authorities should urge people to go outside and that their findings can inform policymakers. “Our findings have practical health policy implications,” explained Prof. Swami. “Given that further lockdown restrictions have now become necessary … public health messages that promote getting some fresh air instead of staying indoors and staring at our screens could really help to lift people’s mood this winter.”

Keywords

COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic, lockdown, happiness, outdoors, mental health