From the clean scent of trees and grass and the feel of the warm sun on your face, to a view that takes your breath away – there’s no doubt that the natural world can make you feel better.
Studies show a link between access to green space and better mental and physical health, and new research by the Mental Health Foundation has found 62% of adults who were stressed because of COVID-19 said going for a walk helped them cope, and 47% said being able to visit green spaces helped them too.
So, to mark World Mental Health Day, WWF-UK and the Mental Health Foundation have teamed up to produce a free guidebook, Thriving with Nature, which explores the relationship between nature, wellbeing and mental health, and features ways nature and people can help each other.
TV presenter Julia Bradbury, a long-time nature enthusiast, has written the foreword to the guide, and says: “For those of you thinking ‘I don’t have time to get to the mountains or big rugged landscapes’, a stroll in a city park, by a canal or around your local woodland can be just as reviving. And if you work in a dense urban jungle, it’s still worth heading outside into the light; a single tree can inspire as much joy as a ‘big view’.
“I believe it’s vital for all of us to spend time reconnecting with nature for our mental health and wellbeing. I really hope Thriving With Nature inspires you – and your friends and family – to get out and make the most of the amazing nature all around us.”
And Dr Antonis Kousoulis from the Mental Health Foundation adds: “Growing evidence suggests being in nature has a very positive effect on our mental health, providing protective and restorative benefits. We need to get serious about cherishing the natural world and acknowledge that human thriving depends on it.”
Here are 8 ways the Mental Health Foundation and WWF-UK suggest nature can boost your mental wellbeing…
1. Spending time in green spaces
Many studies have found links between access to green space, such as fields, forests, parks and gardens, and a reduced risk of mental health problems, improved mood, and increased life satisfaction. Other benefits of getting outside into nature include reduced stress, increased physical activity, and better health.
2. Finding nature in the city
Every city has its green spots if you look hard enough. So if you live or work in a city, take some time to find green spaces including parks, canals or courtyards. Research suggests that taking advantage of urban green spaces is also great for your mood and life satisfaction.
3. Getting active in green spaces
An important link has been found between spending time outdoors and how physically active people are. It’s well-known that exercise is good for physical health, but it’s great for mental health too, and research shows exercise like walking or running in green spaces boosts wellbeing and helps reduce anger, fatigue and sadness. And ‘green’ exercise doesn’t even have to be prolonged – one study found just five minutes of physical activity in green space improved mood and self-esteem, and if water was present the effect was even stronger.
4. Trying forest therapy
Forest therapy, or forest bathing, involves visiting a forest or doing therapeutic activities in a forest environment to improve your health and wellbeing. There’s nothing complicated about it – all you do is go to a forest and focus on the natural world around you. Studies show such therapy is an effective way to reduce depression. The idea was developed by the Japanese, and studies by the Japanese government have found two hours of ‘mindful exploration’ in a forest can reduce blood pressure, lower stress and improve concentration and memory.
5. Appreciating the autumn leaves
Take time to appreciate the beauty of the autumn leaf displays on the trees, crunch through fallen leaves, and pick up a handful and see what they smell like. Simple, natural pleasures can really boost your wellbeing.
6. Picking autumn fruits
If you’re lucky you might still come across some juicy blackberries on a walk – pick some and enjoy them, or take them home and do a bit of baking.
7. Enjoying wildlife
Some studies suggest that simply being around animals and wildlife might be good for your wellbeing – there aren’t many people who don’t like to see a rabbit or squirrel, or even a fox or badger, when they’re walking in the countryside. Spotting and interacting with wildlife in their natural habitat, perhaps by watching birds in your garden, can improve people’s feelings of wellbeing, relaxation, and connection to nature.
If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, make as much use of it as possible for the sake of your mental health! Evidence suggests people who spend time gardening experience a wide range of positive effects, including improvements in mood, quality of life and feelings of community. And a Royal Horticultural Society and Sheffield University study published this week found more than half of inner city residents given ornamental plants to put in their bare front gardens said the garden helped them feel happier, and lowered their stress levels.
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