Winter is coming. Get outside now!

I have an announcement: It’s officially been seven weeks of classes, and I have yet to spend a single minute of my time doing work in Perkins. No, it’s not because I haven’t had work or haven’t needed to “lock in.” I’m a normal student, come on. I will admit — I have gone to Vondy (or Perk Cafe as some call it), and I’ve been to the Link once or twice. Still, I have managed to survive half a semester without shutting myself inside a library. 

Where, you may ask, have I been? Well, as Johnny Cash once said, “I’ve been everywhere, man.” Specifically, I’ve been everywhere outside … man. I wrote my paper on the Watergate scandal seated on the swinging benches at BC Plaza, and I read the entirety of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in the Duke Gardens. I have made outline after outline on the bridge to McClendon Tower. I have even strolled to the Al Buehler trail once or twice to complete an assignment. There’s apparently a rooftop garden in E-Quad that I have my eye on for next week. 

I work outside for many reasons. For one, it’s still a perfect temperature outside, and I am trying to take as much advantage of it as possible before winter and darkness descends on Durham. When giving tours to prospective Duke students, I always make sure to emphasize the climate here because I honestly believe it’s part of what makes the student experience so great. So much of campus is structured in a way that allows us to be out in nature, and it is certainly intentional. Spending time outside not only makes me grateful for nature, but it also makes me grateful for Duke. 

This brings me to my second point. Duke is a gorgeous campus, and we don’t always take the time to look around and appreciate it. When we hurry from building to building every day, we miss the beauty that surrounds us. Last year, especially during the harder times of the year, I trudged between classes with my head down and headphones on. It took a toll on my mental health. This year, looking up and looking around has helped me through plenty of moments of stress and anxiety. Paying attention to where I am grounds me and forces me to get out of my own head for a second. There have been times when I have been so caught up on a piece of work only to pause, get up, take a breath of fresh air and realize I actually know how to approach the problem. 

Working outside actually makes doing work more enjoyable too. Consequently, when I am in a happier state of mind, the work I produce reflects that. I have had some pretty astounding moments of inspiration sitting outside with my books and computer. More than that, I am beginning to reassociate what it means and how it feels to do work in college. I think we often adopt a mindset of “grinding” or just “getting through” our work here at Duke. Some of us complain constantly about it and others procrastinate endlessly to avoid it altogether. I believe a lot of this comes from the experience of doing work and the environment we create for ourselves when we sit down and churn it out.

What if we tried to set ourselves up to be a little happier when we do our work? 

I am not going to try to suggest here that every P-Set or every discussion post is going to be a life-changing experience of joy. I understand that there are times when some people need to eliminate all distractions and focus intensely to finish a piece of work. I do, however, believe that this does not need to be the default. I think it’s reasonable to imagine a schedule that balances being outside and working outside with blocks of sharp focus. 

Making time to be outside is scientifically proven to promote mental health, wellbeing, and analytical abilities. A UC Davis study based on the National Library of Medicine’s research discovered that being outside boosts creativity and problem-solving skills. It also relieves tension in our muscles, lowers blood pressure and heart rates and helps boost our Vitamin D supply. Need more convincing? Spending time outside also helps you sleep more easily and consistently. I don’t think I need to convince you of how important that is. 

So, as the days grow shorter and the clouds begin to emerge, take advantage of our campus climate and venture outside. You may discover a new place of solitude nestled somewhere in our eight-thousand-acre campus. Or you may see a place you’ve passed hundreds of times in a new light. Bring some work, settle in and enjoy a moment of peace to get that genius brain of yours churning. 

Anna Sorensen is a Trinity sophomore. Her column typically runs on alternate Tuesdays.


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