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Six ways to connect with nature for mental health

Six ways to connect with nature for mental health

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The ‘good life’ takes effort. Mental wellness is complex and, despite being debated since Greek philosophers were still waltzing round in togas, it is vastly under discussion today. I mean, who doesn’t want to feel good, right? Nature has repeatedly been beneficial for mental health, so this year, make it a priority to tune into the abundant gifts that connection with the natural world can bring. Here are some tips for getting started.

A human being or human doing?

If the pandemic taught us anything, then it’s to value downtime. I know we didn’t all get to take time out, I worked through it too, but I noticed how quiet the rest of the world was.

Time in nature switches off areas in the brain responsible for the fight, flight, freeze and turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, aiding relaxation and regeneration.

Even imagining tranquil natural places can trigger the rest and digest response (Harvard Health, 2020), but nothing compares to the real thing. Put the time in your diary to step away from your phone and those endless emails. Notice the wonder of nature.

Cultivate hope

Psychologists have found that turning your attention to beauty and nature can increase your levels of hope (Diessner, Rust, Solom, Frost & Parsons, 2006). It couldn’t be a timelier pursuit in a world attempting to improve their mental health after a pandemic To make a habit of this:

  1. Anchor it to something you already do.
  2. When you walk to the bus stop or head to pick the kids up from school, make it your mission to find something beautiful. If you live in an urban environment with less nature at your disposal, try viewing the world through a lens, like a camera or a magnifying glass.
  3. Focus your attention on the magic beneath the concrete.

Healthy body, healthy mind

Mind-body dualism is a fallacy. A healthy mind contributes to a healthy body, and visa-versa, spending time in nature has a host of benefits for both. Our senses are the vehicle by which we understand what is going on. They are the link between the internal and the external world.

Take yourself to an area with something natural to enjoy, even a lone tree and invite your body and mind to be still, turning your attention to what you sense at that moment. Connecting with nature will benefit your mental health greatly. 

Seek nourishment for the soul

Relishing in a single plant can put you in a state of positive emotion.

Imagine how a tiny seed from your chosen plant found a space in the soil to grow. Maybe the fur of a mammal or the belly of a bird carried the seed.

Perhaps even by the wind and there it rested, waiting for the right moment to yawn into life. Without haste, after a cold, snowy winter, when the soil became just wet and just warm enough, the seed cracked open.

As time marched on, some of these tiny plants’ neighbours dried out, were washed away, mown by enthusiastic gardeners or grazed by sheep, but this little one survives and every day gets closer to being the mature plant it was destined to be. It makes me feel good just thinking about it.

Hear what nature has to say

We have so many things to learn from nature. One thing it regularly teaches me is to accept that all things change. Take deciduous trees, for example. They use almost all their reserves to grow new leaves every spring, yet come autumn, when the light is less productive, and the worsening weather would put leaf laden branches at risk, they let them go. Just like that.

No fear of loss, but a graceful release, with the knowledge that they will indeed grow the following year again – if they are lucky. 

Remember, we are part of something bigger.

I read somewhere that there is a sunset every day. It is up to you whether you choose to watch it or not. Even in the heart of a city, there is weather, light, wind and sky, if you want more nature in your life you only need to make that choice. Be grateful to have this opportunity, and please, give something back.

Random acts of kindness not only honour our planet and nature but are positive for your mental health too. So, plant something attractive and beneficial to other animals, pick up some litter or remind others how wonderful it is to be alive in this beautiful world.  

Enjoy your limited time here respectfully. Let’s leave our corner of it even better for future generations. Come to know it and love it, like an extended version of yourself, because in reality, it is.