Heading Outdoors Keeps Lockdown Blues at Bay

Summary: Levels of happiness increase when people are outdoors, compared to being inside.

Source: Anglia Ruskin University

A new study has found that spending time outdoors and switching off our devices is associated with higher levels of happiness during a period of COVID-19 restrictions.

Previous academic studies have indicated how being outdoors, particularly in green spaces, can improve mental health by promoting more positive body image, and lowering levels of depression and anxiety.

Jointly led by academics from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in the UK, the Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences in Austria, and Perdana University in Malaysia, this new research examined how levels of happiness during a national lockdown were affected by being outdoors, the amount of daily screen time (use of TV, computer and smartphone) and feelings of loneliness.

Using an experience sampling method (ESM), the researchers measured levels of happiness amongst a group of 286 adults three times a day, at random intervals, over a 21-day period. This allowed the participants to provide data in real-time rather than retrospectively, helping to avoid recall biases.

The research, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, was carried out in April 2020, when the Austrian participants were allowed to leave their homes only for specific activities, which included exercise.

It found that levels of happiness were higher when participants were outdoors rather than indoors. In addition, more daily screen time and higher levels of loneliness were both associated with lower levels of happiness. The impact of loneliness on happiness was also weaker when participants were outdoors.

This shows a woman enjoying the sunshine while sitting on a dock
It found that levels of happiness were higher when participants were outdoors rather than indoors. Image is in the public domain

Co-lead author Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “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.

“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.

“Our findings have practical health policy implications. Given that further lockdown restrictions have now become necessary in the UK, 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.”

About this psychology research news

Source: Anglia Ruskin University
Contact: Jon Green – Anglia Ruskin University
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
Emotional Well-Being Under Conditions of Lockdown: An Experience Sampling Study in Austria During the COVID-19 Pandemic” by Stefan Stieger, David Lewetz & Viren Swami. Journal of Happiness Studies


Emotional Well-Being Under Conditions of Lockdown: An Experience Sampling Study in Austria During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and attendant lockdown measures present serious threats to emotional well-being worldwide. Here, we examined the extent to which being outdoors (vs. indoors), the experience of loneliness, and screen-time are associated with emotional well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic using an experiencing sampling method. In April 2020, Austrian adults (N = 286, age M = 31.0 years) completed a 21-day experience sampling phase in which they reported their emotional well-being (i.e., happiness), whether they were indoors or outdoors, and loneliness at three random time-points each day, as well as their daily screen-time. Results indicated that being outdoors was associated with higher emotional well-being, whereas greater loneliness and greater daily screen-time were associated with poorer well-being. Additionally, the impact of loneliness on well-being was weaker when participants were outdoors than indoors. These results have health policy implications for the promotion of population well-being during pandemics.

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