Our mental health has never just been us. Nature has always been a part of our well-being, and connecting with the great outdoors is paramount to our overall wellness. With the rise of technology (and especially these little supercomputers stowed away in our pockets), there has never been a greater hindrance on our mental health.

Overuse of apps like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter affects people of all ages and cultures. Social media connects us, but it also frays the connections between us because no one is in someone else’s life 24/7. The fatigue is real. One recent study found that online social networks cause nearly 50 negative effects on users, including anxiety, depression, sleep loss, anti-social tendencies, and lack of productivity.

Social media is addicting, and while the side effects and outcomes are absolutely horrifying, they are not surprising. And they don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, especially in the current COVID world we live in.

The pandemic has forced society to move into a state of constant online presence in order to maintain work schedules and social connection. The pendulum being swung so swiftly to social isolation and uncertainty did not help (remember: we are communal creatures). Moving everything online was necessary and, for a time, legally required for some. Now comes our reckoning: we must find a way to transition from screen time back to green time.

The average American now spends more time (at nearly eight hours a day) looking at a screen than sleeping. Womp, womp. Instead, we ought to be spending more time unplugging from our phones and plugging into the real, natural, authentic world around us (think of those blue aliens that literally plugged themselves into animals and nature from James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) – maybe he was on to something!).

Humans are genetically engineered to be attracted to things that are alive outside. We were made to grow in nature alongside the flowers and trees; next to the mountains and ocean; near the birds, fish, and even the bugs.

We belong in nature and our minds and bodies know it. We were hard-wired to thrive in the living, natural world, and it really only takes a little effort to find ways to interact with nature, even in a largely urbanized society.

Evidence supports an association between common types of nature experience and increased psychological well-being, including happiness, positive social interactions, a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life, increased productivity, decreases in mental distress, memory and attention boosts, and creativity.

Time spent in nature reduces risk factors and burdens of some types of mental health concerns, especially relating to sleep problems, stress, anxiety, and depression.

These are all the exact outcomes needed to combat the ongoing rise of social media and over-reliance on all things digital. Bringing our focus back to the actual living and growing things around us leads us out of digital decay, while allowing us to keep utilizing the amazing by-products of a connected and technologically-advanced society.

We aren’t suggesting completely removing cell phones and social media; we should continue to mindfully and thoughtfully expand their use. We support balance and awareness; screen time with the absence of green time is detrimental.

Our biorhythms need a reset. Finding a way to incorporate getting outdoors and into nature is key to reintegrating mental health into your modern lifestyle. Shut off the screen and go outside!