Building a connection with nature for better mental health

There is more and more evidence coming out that nature has a really positive impact on people’s wellbeing and their mental health. For many people though, nature is not an important part of their lives.

In a study done by the National Trust and Derby University they found that only 19% of children regularly notice wildlife, 57% of adults rarely or never watched the sunrise in the last year and only 27% of people regularly watched the clouds.

All of these activities are completely free and have been shown to make us feel good so the question is, how can we improve our relationship and connectedness to nature?

Noticing nature

There are a few simple ways that you can simply notice nature more often in your everyday life. This simple awareness can be built into whatever time suits your lifestyle from noticing nature before you get into your car in the morning to organising family walks.

  • Watching the wildlife, the easiest is often noticing the birds
  • Listening to bird song
  • Smelling wildflowers
  • Taking a photo of or drawing nature such as views, plants or animals
  • Noticing things like butterflies or bees
  • Watching the sunrise/sunset
  • Watching the clouds.

The noticing nature challenge

In the research carried out by the National Trust and Derby University (link below) they asked people to take part in the noticing nature challenge. The challenge covered a huge range of activities that people could do in nature and all the participants had to do was pick one of the following activities each day for a week.

So, are you ready to take on the challenge?

Here are the suggested activities:

Building awareness of the senses in nature

  • Watch wildlife such as animals or insects. Notice things like the birds in the sky, wildlife in fields and hedgerows or water wildlife in rivers or ponds.
  • Go barefoot. Where safe, take your shoes and socks off and spend some time feeling the ground beneath your feet.
  • Consider the nature beyond earth. Watch the sunrise or sunset or spend some time stargazing and see if you can spot some planets.

Considering the meaning of nature

  • Where do you see the influence of nature? Where you can in everyday life, start to notice where you see nature represented. This can be in art or on clothes, maybe even in well known business brands and logos.
  • Talk about nature. Tell somebody about your favourite flower or animal and why they appeal to you, then you can ask them theirs. This could be a great icebreaker that will help bring nature into a corporate setting.
  • Expand your knowledge. Read a book or watch a nature show and see what you can learn about nature. Personally, I would recommend anything by Sir David Attenborough.

Noticing the beauty of nature

  • Creative writing. Write a poem or short piece of writing about nature.
  • Capture the beauty. Take a photo or draw a picture of something in nature.
  • Get arty. Let your imagination run wild and create art with natural materials that you have collected. This one is great for kids!

Noticing your emotions in and about nature

  • Take a break outdoors. This could be a lunchbreak from work or a social catch up where you meet outside (especially useful during lockdown).
  • Do something active outside. If you are into yoga then maybe do a yoga pose outdoors or if you are feeling really brave then maybe dance! Alternatively consider walking/running/cycling in a space like a park or the countryside
  • Take some private time in nature. Find a safe, quiet space and allow yourself some time to think. You could practice some mindfulness if that is something you like or just think about your breathing while listening to the natural sounds around you. If you are more practiced at meditation or self-exploration then consider what nature means to you and how you feel as you experience it.

Building compassion in nature

  • Litter picking. Consider having a positive impact on the local environment by picking up litter in a safe way. This can often be done in an organised way such as with local beach clearing organisations, or you can, where safe to do so, pick up any litter you see around and put it in a bin.
  • Nourish nature. Put food out for wildlife, build an insect hotel or create a home for a hedgehog. Take a moment to notice how it feels to look after nature.
  • Plant something. Plant something in your garden, in a pot for your windowsill or look into any local tree planting initiatives.

All you need to do to take part in the challenge is to pick one of the above activities and make sure you do it! You can repeat activities or do a different one everyday it really doesn’t matter just challenge yourself to notice nature for a week.

Here are some of the photos from my experiences of noticing nature:

Noticing different fungi in the local woods

Watching the sunrise

Seeing how the clouds change

Going for runs up hills for the view and on misty mornings

Why engage with nature more?

The results of this study were that there were a number of benefits to the participants. They reported that they were able to be more “in the moment” with nature, be more mindful and felt that they could “slow the pace of life” for a bit.  Overall people found the activities calming and relaxing.

For those people who took part in these activities with friends, colleagues or family members, they reported that they were able to create stronger bonds and more personal connections and experienced meaningful moments and made new memories.

Interestingly also, participants found that doing these activities often had to step outside of their comfort zone to do so and then felt accomplished and fulfilled for doing so.

All of these benefits are great ways to improve your mental health and wellbeing in general. So, if you do decide to give the challenge a go, let me know how you experienced it.

Here is a link to the research that this blog is based on, I would highly recommend taking the time to read it as there is so much useful information in there:  https://nt.global.ssl.fastly.net/documents/noticing-nature-report-feb-2020.pdf

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