During long months of 2020, millions of us turned to nature. Research on the mental health impacts of the pandemic showed going for walks outside was a top coping strategy for most people with 45% of people reporting using nature as a way of improving their mental health. Recognising this, Mental Health Awareness Week 2021’s theme is Nature.
Being outside and in nature is important for dealing with stress and anxiety—the exact emotions that many of us have been grappling with during the pandemic. Did you know that not only is being outside in nature good for your mental health, it can also positively impact on your physical health? In the 1960s study in the US found that patients who were treated in hospitals with a view of nature recovered faster than those who had no view.
Some research has found that simply being outside in the sunshine for 20 minutes can boost a person’s energy to the same degree as having a cup of coffee. There’s also some evidence to suggest that that breathing in phytoncides, which are airborne chemicals produced by plants, boosts our immune system by increasing our white blood cell count, thereby helping us fight off illnesses more effectively.
People seem to instinctively turn to nature when times get tough. Websites which showed footage from webcams of wildlife saw hits increase by over 2000% at the start of the pandemic and thousands of people laced up their walking shoes and headed out to seek the peace and quiet nature brings.
There’s a lot of good research to support the role nature can play in protecting and supporting our mental health. Here are some of the Mental Health Foundation’s top tips for building your connection with nature, wherever you are:
Don’t be afraid to explore
Nature is all around us. Even in cities there’s community gardens, parks and courtyards to explore. Look out for the unexpected – an urban fox on your way out for the early shift, changes in the weather or birdsong outside your window. Make a point of looking to find nature wherever you are.
Use all of your senses
Nature is the perfect place to practice mindfulness. Whether you’re relaxing in the garden or on your way to work, let yourself be absorbed by what’s around you. Listening out for birdsong, look for bees and butterflies, or notice the movement of the clouds. All of these good things in nature can help you to find a sense of calm and joy.
Bring nature inside
Sometimes it’s hard to access natural places because of where you live, how busy you are, how safe you feel or your health. Why not try bringing nature into your home? Having plants in the house is a great way to have something natural to see, touch and smell – pots of herbs from the supermarket are a good start.
If you have a garden, allotment or balcony, think about how you can make the most of it. Grow flowers, plants or vegetables, get a bird feeder and take in the sights and sounds around you.
If planting isn’t your thing, you can watch wildlife documentaries or sign up to a live feed and see animals in their natural habitat.
Try combining creativity with your natural environment. This could involve taking part in creative activities outside, like dance, music, or art. All of these things can help reduce stress and improve your mood. You could also increase your sense of connection by taking photos, writing, drawing or painting pictures of the landscape, plants or animals. Noticing the beauty of nature and expressing this creatively can help you find meaning and an emotional connection to nature that will stay with you for a lifetime.
While there’s many things you can do to better your mental health, sometimes you need to talk to a professional. If you’re feeling stressed, depressed or overly anxious we have fully qualified and insured hypnotherapists on our therapists finder.