One of the biggest sources of stress in modern life is feeling the psychological pressure to be always on. What if we modelled our work after the rhythms and seasons of nature instead?

It’s a question I’ve thinking about a lot lately during my pre- and post-work walks in the forest near my new home. Honoring the Japanese tradition of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing, I have come to appreciate these walks as a powerful and much-needed way of relieving stress and quieting an overactive mind.

But apart from the calmness it instills, there’s something else about the proximity to nature that is causing me to pause and reflect on the ways in which modern society and technology are leading us to live in ways that are out of sync with our natural inclinations.

To see the forest come to life in the morning and then to hear the singing of the birds fade away in the evening, is to be reminded of the rhythmic alternation between day and night – natural rhythms that we are ruining with artificial light emanating from our little screens, keeping us on edge long after our bodies have tired out.

To see the forest bathe in soft spring light one morning, only for it to be covered in snow the next day, is to be reminded of the rhythmic alternation between the seasons – natural rhythms that virtual environments are alienating us from by making every day look and feel the same in an indiscernible blur of bits, bytes, and busyness.

These are not new themes. Already in the pre-digital age, Henry David Thoreau famously explored variations on them in his classic work “Walden; or Life in the Woods” (1854), extolling the virtues of a simple and quiet life in tune with nature. His months-long respite in the woods may seem like an idyllic dream by today’s standards. But even in our current high-tech world, there are things we can do to reclaim our natural rhythms.

For example, rather than cramming lots of activity into every day, what if we intentionally balanced periods of intense work with periods of reflection and restoration?

Cal Newport has proposed we embrace what he calls “seasonality of work”: a rhythmic balancing of busy and non-busy days, weeks, or even months. Related concepts such as the 4-day work week and the right to disconnect after working hours are also gaining traction. And for good reason. With burnout becoming increasingly rampant, perhaps it’s time we face the reality that being always available to others is not making us more productive; it is tiring us out and holding us back from doing our best work.

There are also small practical changes we can make ourselves. For example, to avoid the harmful effects of artificial blue light on our circadian rhythms, did you know you can put your screens to night mode in the evening? (even better is to put them away, of course).

What else can we do to reclaim some of our natural rhythms? Feel free to add your thoughts and tips below.

Photo taken on a rare occasion of snow in April, last Friday.