During the pandemic, 45% of people in the UK found that visiting green spaces, such as parks, forests and nature reserves, helped them to cope during a period of great loneliness and isolation. In 2022, most of us exist with a constant anxiety about climate change, having a detrimental effect on our wellbeing, clouding our minds with thoughts of existentialism. If climate change is adversely affecting your mental health, spending time connecting to our beautiful natural world may help you to feel more peaceful within yourself. Backed up by numerous studies, here are our four favourite tips to help you connect with nature and boost your mental health:
Grow your own food
Gardening and growing your own vegetables is one of the best ways to connect with nature. Not everyone has a garden or allotment to do this, but this doesn’t mean you can’t get involved. Even growing herbs in a small window box can give you the means to connect with your food at its most formative level. As you watch and nurture your food from soil and seeds, you experience the entire growing process. The reward is not only what you’ve grown, but the joy of the experience, self-satisfaction and a deeper understanding of the food we put into our bodies. In the same way people paint, or write music to escape and relax, growing your own sustenance is an art in itself and one that will only brighten your life - is there any better feeling than picking a ripe fruit or vegetable that you poured months of love into?
Experience nature with every sense
“High quality” natural spaces are proven to be better for our general wellbeing. Our personal connection with nature blossoms when we form real-world emotional connections with our environment. “Fresh air and exercise” are commonly touted as ‘solutions’ to depression and poor mental health but beyond the physicality of those benefits, there is more to be found in the bond we form with our natural surroundings. Next time you take a walk in a park or a forest leave your phone at home and try and fully immerse yourself with all your senses. Listen for birds and scurrying animals. Feel the bark of a tree that is older than any living human. Feel the crunch of leaves and twigs beneath your feet. Smell the sweet scent of the flowers. Feel better yet?
Bring nature to you
Many people have limited access to “high quality” natural areas. Urbanised areas can offer little to no option for long fresh-air walks but that doesn’t mean we have no option to connect with nature. For some in these areas not only does the lack of access to nature affect well-being, but they are already living in areas most at risk of mental health problems. Our connectedness to nature is not limited to being out in it - you can bring nature to you and connect in other ways to still experience the benefits. Indoor plants have been shown to trigger the release of serotonin – which lifts our mood in a completely natural way. Research has even identified microbes (M. vaccae) in the soil that encourage the release of additional serotonin. Houseplants also purify the air in our homes providing us cleaner air in our living space. Other ways to bring nature to you are through documentaries. In a BBC Earth study, participants who watched even a few minutes of Planet Earth felt 46% more awe and contentedness than those who watched other types of TV show. It’s a great way to really understand the magnitude of our fascinating planet. You can also try connecting to nature through writing or art - you may find it provides the same level of peace and satisfaction.
Don’t Just Connect, Help
Our natural word is in crisis. The impact of a capitalistic world on our natural habitats has been devastating but there are small ways to get out and help nurture the biodiversity of our landscape (and we all know we feel good when we do good for others):
- Go on a conservation walk. In addition to exercise and fresh air, helping to clean wild areas will further your connectedness with our planet.
- Plant helpful flowers. The population of bees continues to decline, and planting flowers that attract them can help repopulate them. Find out how you can help the Bees here.
- Build a bird box. Building a bird box is a fantastic way to encourage biodiversity in your garden and provide shelter for at risk birds. Get instructions of how to build one here. (You can also make shelters for our friend the Hedgehog too!)
Through building relationships with our planet and the glorious little miracles it provides, everything we have for health, happiness and prosperity exists in nature - it’s how we choose to harness that that will impact our overall synergy with this one planet we so often take for granted.