Working in an office with no windows – where you can't tell whether it's day or night, raining or sunny – can make you feel stir-crazy even on the best of days, add to this the to-do list that seems to never stop growing and it creates the perfect storm for stress to cultivate.
While there is plenty of research that shows experiencing nature can help to reduce stress – even through a window – if you're stuck in an office that has neither windows nor easy access to nature, are there any other ways you can help reduce your stress levels in the workplace?
Well according to a new by University of South Australia researcher Bridgette Minuzzo, art work could be the answer.
Minuzzo's three-year study involved 91 participants across 18 work sites including offices, student breakout spaces and workstations at an Adelaide Hospital, which had no windows or direct views of nature.
Minuzzo says her research differs from previous attention restoration studies, as they were conducted in a simulated environment such as a lab with simulated tasks and views, The Lead reports.
"I used original artworks because my focus was particularly on looking at how people might engage with an artistic representation of a view and how that might differ from having a window," the PhD student reveals.
Working with a neuroscientist on the study, the mental wellbeing of participants were also measured before each trial with changes in their mental fatigue and stress levels documented over the month.
Minuzzo's study found that viewing a landscape painting for as little as one to five minutes cut stress and fatigue levels.
"We all have a lunch break and a coffee break but we've got hours between them when we're sitting there and our work focus tires after 25-55 minutes," Minuzzo explains.
"If you've got lack of sleep, deadlines, workplace restructures and all these other stressors, sometimes you need your working brain to rest for a bit and one minute is enough for you to rejuvenate a tired working brain."
Surprisingly, exposure to the paintings – some paintings were circular providing a portal view to the natural world, while others were more expansive like a large window – showed similar results in studies where live views of nature were experienced.
"It's all about a connection with nature," Minuzzo tells The Lead.
Adding: "The participants reported that landscape paintings evoked fond memories of holidays and time spent in nature. Looking at the scenes rejuvenates tired brains and helps workers to refocus on tasks."
Minuzzo explains that with many people spending most of their day indoors, and with many offices have clean wall policies and no windows, it's not allowing workers any chance to "connect with nature, denying us views to hills, sky, water or foliage, which is so essential to our wellbeing."
"We know that experiencing nature not only focuses attention but also reduces mental fatigue which – my study found – affects workers for one to three hours every day."
She adds, "There's also a lot of spaces in cities where you might have a window but the view will be into a corridor or a neighbouring building or road. We can't easily change those places but you can introduce something into that environment very easily that can help bring about a 20 to 40 per cent reduction in stress and mental fatigue."
Minuzzo says that while it's previously been thought having something on the wall to look at in an office may have been considered a distraction or a decorative extra, this study has shown that's not the case.
"Engaging in art is restorative, visually stimulating, can foster creative thinking and also helps our work weary brains, so the next thing is to acknowledge that art is not a decorative distraction, it's actually good for our brains."
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