It's been a stressful time for small-business owners, and if there's one thing science is dead sure of it's that nature will help. Study after study shows nature reduces stress, boosts creativity, happiness, and productivity, and is even good for you physically.

That's why doctors sometimes prescribe time in nature to suffering patients. And why Amazon splashed out on a whopping 40,000 plants for its Seattle HQ.  

That such a simple way to boost productivity and health exists is the good news. The bad news is that right now getting out in nature can still be risky in certain places, or just isn't possible for some people. Is the only solution to suffer in your drab space or go wild at the garden store? 

Nope, there are ways even the most apartment-bound (and budget constrained) entrepreneur can bring a bit of the outside in. 

Bring a little nature into your workspace for zero dollars 

A plant, a pet, or a view out to a leafy green park can of course help you bring a little nature into your home or office. But even if you have allergies, an alley view, and a black thumb, there is at least one simple and completely affordable way to bring a little more nature in: Reflect the movement of light and water into your workspace, suggests architecture professor Kevin Nute on The Conversation recently. 

"Wherever you happen to live ... the earth's largest wilderness, its atmosphere, is only the thickness of a pane of glass away," he writes. The play of light on water or leaves might not sound like much, but, Nute goes on to explain, bringing these patterns into our homes has research-backed benefits. 

"Moving light patterns reflected from a wind-disturbed water surface, of the kind we typically see under boats and bridges, for example, have been shown to have a significant calming effect on heart rate, and can also help keep us alert," Nute reports. 

How do you bring them inside? All you need is a little ingenuity (and maybe an old baking tray or roller blind): 

  • Hang a net curtain. "Placing an insect screen and a net curtain outside a window, for example, will generate moiré patterns that change as the wind varies. This works even on overcast days, but in direct sun the moiré patterns are also cast as moving shadows on interior surfaces," Nute says. 
  • Make shadow puppets of plants. "If you have a deck or balcony that receives direct sunlight, the wind-generated movements of foliage can be projected onto a translucent shade or blind to make them seem part of the interior," he suggests. 

  • Put a tray of water on a sunny windowsill. "You can also project wind-animated reflected sunlight onto indoor surfaces by placing a shallow tray of water on a sun-facing balcony," Nute says. "This effect can even be recreated at night by directing an external security light onto the water surface. The same setup can also project ripples caused by rain."

The idea at the heart of all three of these tips is to find ways to bring the natural movement of light and air into our indoor spaces, even just as a visual reminder of the great outdoors. That's not a complete substitute for getting out in the fresh air, of course, but it's a useful hack to make staying in a little less stressful.