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5 ways nature can boost your mental health

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and the focus for 2021 is the positive effects that nature can have on our mental wellbeing. This might seem obvious—we can all identify with the feelings of happiness and serenity that being in nature evoke—but our ‘always on’ culture, with its glorification of the 24/7 hustle, as well as our increasingly unhealthy attachment to electronic devices, means it’s too easy to forgo an hour in a green space for yet more swiping on a screen or one more funny cat video.

Reams of research has been done over the years proving the role that nature plays in boosting mental health and overall wellbeing. Among other things, time spent in nature can reduce stress and anger, boost your physical health and even enhance self-confidence.

However, as much as we’d like be immersed in nature as often as possible, our work and lifestyles can make this challenging. The good news is there are lots of simple ways to bring nature closer to you everyday. Let’s have a look at five of them…

1. Just get outdoors

Let’s start with the most obvious one—simply seek out a natural space, whether it be a park, a forest, the beach, even your own garden (or work garden, of you have one), and commit to spending time there, devoid of any device or other distractions. And instead of eating a sandwich at your desk while watching Netflix, go outside for lunch.

Sitting quietly in a green space will immediately life your mood and give you a fresh perspective on things.

Man standing at the foot of a big lake with mountains in the distance.
Photo by Tamas Pap on Unsplash

2. Bring the outdoors to you

Whether it’s at home or in the office, plants are a great way to fill your environment with nature and bring green calm into the space. Pot plants are relatively cheap and can be placed just about anywhere, plus watering and looking after plants boosts those chemicals involved with nurturing and kindness.

And why not grow your own plants—be it flowers or fruit and vegetables? Watching something grow is certainly a lesson in patience and the importance of being present—nature always takes its time!

Another great way to feel like you’re in nature without actually being there is by watching nature documentaries. Thanks to the likes of Sir David Attenborough and the BBC, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to this. Not only does a good nature documentary teach you new things, it can be a very moving and important reminder of your own place within nature’s cycles. Waterbear is another fantastic platform, which shows hundreds of nature documentaries for free.

3. Take your gym into nature

Woman doing a yoga pose on the beach.
Photo by Andrés Gómez on Unsplash

One thing Covid taught us is that it’s not necessary to go to gym to exercise. During lockdown, many of us rediscovered the simple joys of going for a walk in a park or along the beach; and even though gyms are re-opening now, do you really want to go back to those smelly changing rooms and equipment still damp from someone else’s sweat?

Granted, you might enjoy going to gym, plus they need our support to stay in business, but don’t forget those times you discovered the magic of working out in nature. If the weather’s good on the weekend, why not switch your usual trip to the gym to a session outdoors?

4. Notice nature

Too often, we take nature for granted. Whether we’re driving, walking or sitting in a park, our minds are usually so distracted by some or other task that we don’t even notice what’s around us.

In future, resolve to removing those earphones and putting that device away, even if it’s just for ten or fifteen minutes. Just sit quietly and take in the birdsong, the wind moving through the foliage, the scent of flowers and rain—you’ll probably be surprised just how much nature surrounds you, even in an urban environment.

5. Get closer to animals

Man and woman interacting with a horse.
Photo by Brandon Hoogenboom on Unsplash

Aside from our pets, getting closer to animals and even interacting with them is a fantastic way to connect with nature. The UK is awash with zoos, animals parks, various sanctuaries and rescue farms, many of which offer the opportunity to feed and/or walk with all sorts of animals. There’s also, of course, the option to go for a horseback ride through a forest.

Bonding with another animal, if only for a few moments, is incredibly therapeutic, and brings us closer to that aspect of human self that is too often lost in the every day routine and rush of our lives.

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