The ‘20–3–5’ Nature Rule Prescribes Exactly How Much Time You Should Spend in Nature

Use it to reduce stress and anxiety, tame burnout, and get some of the benefits of meditation

Michael Easter

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Photo by Holly Mandarich on Unsplash

The herd of massively-antlered, 400-pound caribou was running 50 miles an hour and directly at me. The 30 animals had been eating lichen on the Arctic tundra, more than 100 miles from any settlements in Kotzebue, Alaska, when something spooked them. I was apparently sitting in their escape route.

I was in the Arctic for more than a month on a backcountry hunt while reporting my new book, The Comfort Crisis, which investigates the shocking downsides of our overly comfortable (first) world and reveals how we can leverage the power of a handful of evolutionary discomforts that will dramatically improve our fitness, health, and happiness. The Arctic is one of many places around the world I embedded myself in while investigating the upsides of getting out of our comfort zones.

The ground began to vibrate once they cracked 100 yards. At 50 yards I could see their hooves smashing the ground and kicking up moss and moisture. Then they were at 40, then 35 yards.

I could hear their breathing, smell their coats, and see all the details of their ornate antlers. Just as I was wondering if the rescue plane would be able to spot my hoof-pocked corpse, one of the caribou noticed me and swerved. The herd followed, shaking the earth something good as they swept left and summited the crest of a hill, their antlers black against a gold sky.

That moment when those caribou shook that patch of earth shook my soul. It was transcendent, wild as a religious experience. And it’s not even the most dangerous thing I did in Alaska.

I also experienced savage weather, crossed raging rivers, and faced a half-ton grizzly. My brain was feeling less hunkered down in its typical foxhole — a state that I’d compare to a roadrunner on crystal meth, all dementedly zooming from one thing to the next. My mind felt more like it belonged to a monk after a month at a meditation retreat. I just felt … better. The famed biologist E.O Wilson put my feelings this way: “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual…

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Michael Easter

Author of The Comfort Crisis // Professor // Writing about physical + mental health, psychology, and living better 1x week // eastermichael.com