Connect With Nature
In this blog, Emma Fitzpatrick looks at the remarkable benefits of nature in supporting mental health for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week...
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual event hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, is nature - an excellent theme to reflect on after a year of covid-19 restrictions on our movements.
The lockdown restrictions that were necessary to help us fight Covid-19 have really made me appreciate how important it is to spend time in nature. Being fortunate to live near a small park, during lockdown I would walk around that park a few times to get my daily exercise – this small amount of time spent outside made such a big difference to my mood. Taking time to listen to the sound of the wind in the trees as I walked along, finding new plants growing where I had not noticed them before and watching the seasons change around me as the year went on. Only being able to go out for an hour a day to take exercise in lockdown made me really look forward to my walk each day and be more present in the moment; noticing more of the nature that was on my doorstep. In this blog, I want to share advice from one of the books from the Wellbeing Collection at Senate House Library and other online resources that have helped me.
Nature and nurture
Several studies have suggested a link between spending time in nature and an increased sense of wellbeing. One 2019 study published in the Scientific Reports on nature.com found that people who reported spending more than 120 minutes in nature a week had consistently higher levels of health and wellbeing than those who reported no time in nature.
So, if nature can help us to be healthier, happier and less stressed how do we incorporate more nature, and more happiness, into our lives?
10 Keys to Happier Living
One book from the Senate House Library’s Wellbeing Collection that has lots of helpful and practical advice about how to increase our happiness is 10 keys to happier living : a practical handbook for happiness by Vanessa King. This book is part of a wider movement called Action for Happiness that encourages people to take action to make themselves happier and build a kinder world. Each chapter of this book focuses on a different ‘key’ to happier living, giving information about the science and theory behind each ‘key’. It offers a range of different actions and activities that you can try to improve your own personal happiness.
“Moving for our minds” in the ‘key’ on exercising, touches on the growing body of research that suggests that “green exercise” – the exercise we do in nature, be that in the countryside, a city park or just in our local streets – can have added positive effects on our mood and on our psychological wellbeing. This doesn’t mean that we all need to become marathon runners or spend all our time outside – even just a short walk around a local park or around your local streets can help you to get the benefits of green exercise. Here are some ideas for getting out into nature:
• Gardening is great way to get some exercise and spend some time in nature - if you don’t have a garden of your own, you could volunteer in a community garden or outdoor project
• Go for a walk around your local park or neighbourhood, taking time to observe and appreciate the surroundings
• If you like to do yoga or other classes traditionally held inside, see if you can find one taught outside in a local green space (Covid-19 restrictions permitting, of course)
Awareness is another “Key” to happiness from 10 keys to happier living. In this chapter, King suggests a series of ways to make everyday moments mindful, many of which include looking more closely at the nature that is around us, even if we live in urban areas. Suggestions include:
• Turning indoor meals into picnics to have in the garden or in your local park or green space (If this is permitted under your local area’s Covid-19 restrictions)
• Instead of the sofa, take a book out to a park or green space near you for a change of scene
• Allowing yourself time to simply sit and be mindful in nature – find a green space, sit down and try to notice the sounds, smells, textures and colours of nature around you.
Of course, it is not always easy to overcome the barriers that might stop us from spending more time in nature. Many of us have spent a lot of time in our homes over the last year and may feel uncomfortable being outside again. If you are currently struggling with mental health problems you may find that you are often very tired and have difficulty doing physical activity. You may also find spending time outside and around other people challenging, particularly if you are worried about people not adhering to social distancing rules. Here are some suggestions to help you ease back in and get the benefits of spending time in nature:
• Start small – just 5 minutes walking or simply paying attention to the nature that you can see out of your window.
• If there are activities which you do to help manage your depression or anxiety, such as mindfulness exercises, take them outside.
• Work with your highs and lows not against them. Work out which times of day you feel better and use that to help you manage your time rather than pressuring yourself into things
• Don’t be afraid to ask for support – if you feel anxious going outside or visiting new places you could ask someone you trust to go with you
If you are still shielding from Covid-19 or if you are just not ready to spend more time outside yet, here are some ideas of how you can bring nature into your home:
• Potted plants and flowers brighten up the home and bring nature to you
• If you don’t have access to a garden you can still grow herbs in plant pots on a windowsill
• Listen to natural sounds – there are many recordings and apps that play birdsong, ocean waves, the sound of rain falling
Letting nature take its course
On a final note, it is worth remembering that we are living through a very challenging time. If you are excited to see more areas of public life reopening that is great but it’s also understandable if you are anxious about getting back out into the world, or maybe you don’t really know how to feel. There is no right way to feel about it. Just be kind to yourself and others, remembering to make time for activities that help you, as we all try to navigate our way in the new post-covid world.
For more ideas on incorporating nature into your life for wellbeing, have a look at Mind’s page on Nature and mental health.
Senate House Library's Wellbeing Collection contains books, ebooks and online resources across a range of topics to support the wellbeing of all of our users. Physical books from the Wellbeing Collection can be requested via the Library’s Catalogue online.