3 Ways Nature Benefits CEOs Mental Health And Executive Performance

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CEOs face tremendous stress from various angles. Leading a company and managing a personal life often cause CEO’s well-being to take a backseat. Increased responsibilities and expectations of success can lead to neglect of physical, emotional, or mental health.

Given these factors, it should come as no surprise that 55% of CEOs reported experiencing a mental health issue in the past year, a significant increase from previous years, according to the 2024 State of Workplace Empathy Study. CEO mental health is a critical issue that requires greater awareness and action. While meditation, executive therapy, physical activity, and personal hobbies are common strategies, nature is one underutilized tool that can significantly improve leadership and mental well-being.

The Value of Nature

The world is becoming increasingly urbanized, with two-thirds of the population projected to live in cities by 2050. While cities offer many benefits, spending time outdoors is crucial for physical, emotional, and mental health. A 2019 study published in Nature with 19,806 participants found that spending at least 120 minutes in nature per week can greatly benefit overall health and well-being. As a CEO, time is often a constraint, but the study also noted that breaking the time into smaller chunks still provides substantial benefits.

Spending time in nature, particularly among trees, is a practice called Shinrin-Yoku (or Japanese forest bathing). According to a Business Insider report, forest bathing positively impacts nearly every aspect of our lives. In today’s modern world, stress levels have skyrocketed, especially for CEOs and executive leaders. While it may seem like a luxury, spending time in nature is a powerful tool that can improve your mental health and executive leadership through three key benefits.

1. Better Regulation Of Your Mood

Stress is a part of life, especially for CEOs who are expected to consistently perform under pressure and meet high expectations. However, excessive stress left unaddressed over the long term can lead to burnout, making it difficult for leaders to handle the various responsibilities of their role effectively. High levels of stress and burnout can cause mood fluctuations, anxiety, and even depression.

Exposure to natural environments can buffer against stress and anxiety. A 2021 Journal of Happiness and Health study found that nature positively impacts mental health, serving as a peaceful and emotional sanctuary. Additionally, nature can help manage emotions such as irritability and loneliness, which many CEOs experience.

2. An Opportunity To Escape And Unwind

Our increasingly digital world makes it harder to “turn off.” Remote workers and CEOs are more glued to their devices, leading to “technostress.” Operating in an “always on” culture increases digital overload and attention residue—the accumulative cognitive cost of shifting from one task to another. Combined with leadership pressures, this additionally leads to mental fatigue.

Nature can serve as a refuge to unplug from the digital world by providing a therapeutic environment, allowing CEOs to recharge and unwind. Being in nature helps you turn off the incessant mental chatter and ruminations. While CEOs often bring their work everywhere, not all tasks benefit from constant attention. Nature provides a setting for restoration and to turn off the part of your mind that readily becomes fatigued.

3. Improved Concentration and Innovation

Driving strategy, growth, and innovation requires clear thinking. However, constant distractions and digital connectivity can hinder your concentration. A British Journal of Sports Medicine study found that transitioning from a hectic environment to a green space decreased frustration and led to a more meditative state, thus increasing creativity and innovation.

A study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that the outdoors boosts creativity and innovation, even if only for a short mental break. However, more significant contact with natural settings leads to even higher levels of creative thinking. As a CEO, finding time for nature might seem challenging or inconvenient, but it doesn’t have to be. The ideal approach is to integrate nature into your existing routines. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Substitute your virtual calls and walk outside instead when applicable.
  • Opt for company retreats in natural settings.
  • Engage in physical activities in nature.

Committing to a weekly dose of nature can help you become a healthier, more creative, calmer, and emotionally intelligent leader, ultimately making you a more effective CEO.

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