How to connect with nature to boost your wellbeing

Last reviewed on 11 May 2021

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Has going for a walk in your local park or doing some gardening helped you during the COVID-19 pandemic? According to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation to mark #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek 2021 and its theme of #ConnectWithNature, seven in 10 adults in the UK say that being close to nature improves their mood. As the charity's Chief Executive Mark Rowland comments, “Nature can be a powerful ally in protecting our mental health. During the pandemic, millions of us discovered nature's power to relieve stress, worry, anxiety and restore us with positive emotions, such as joy."

Many studies have found positive links between nature and mental wellbeing – being outside can reduce stress, improve mood, encourage physical activity and facilitate social interactions. For example, a trial in Denmark found that a particular type of nature-based therapy was as effective as a specific cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for treating stress-related illnesses and research by the University of Derby has led to the development of the five ways to wellbeing with nature.

In recent years, awareness of climate change and other environmental issues has grown; in recent months, so too has our appreciation of the natural world. Indeed, many are calling for a green recovery from the pandemic that focuses on fixing our broken relationship with nature.

As Adam Murray, head of community empowerment at the RSPB, says: “Connecting with the natural world is more important than ever. Over the last few months, as we juggled work, family life and wellbeing, all from the confines of home, the natural world became a playground, a gym, a tonic, and much more besides. But while our lives have changed, the threats to nature have not gone away.”

London is one of the greenest cities in Europe – in fact, it was named a National Park City in 2019. Here are Good Thinking’s tips for connecting with nature and getting some ‘Vitamin N’ to boost your wellbeing. You might also like to listen to our #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek podcast with Emma Tolley of the Eden Project, who provides her tips on connecting with nature – including how to use all your senses when you're outside so that you really notice the world around you.

  • Use all your senses – spend five minutes each day paying attention to nature. Open your window and listen to the birds. Stand on the pavement and look up at the stars. Find some flowers and breathe in their scent. If you’d like to learn mindfulness techniques, check out the Be Mindful app on Good Thinking.
  • Go for a walk, run or bike ride – did you know that nearly half of London is green space and that there are eight million trees across the city? Time to explore all those parks, rivers, canals, woodlands and wetlands...
  • Bring nature indoors plant some seeds, see if a friend or neighbour has any cuttings they could give to you or simply buy a bunch of flowers or a plant for your home. Even tuning in to nature programmes and films, such as A Perfect Planet or My Octopus Teacher, can have a positive effect on your emotions.
  • Go foraging – using this guide from the Woodland Trust, learn how to forage for elderberries, hazelnuts and other edible plants in the green spaces near your home.
  • Help to protect the environment – lots of organisations across London run conservation volunteer programmes. Once lockdown restrictions are eased, perhaps you could get involved in a park clean-up, some tree planting or a river restoration.
  • Grow your own fruit, vegetables or herbs – if you don’t have a garden of your own, could you grow them on your balcony or windowsill? Or find a local allotment or help out at a community garden? Check out the Capital Growth website for information about London's food growing network.
  • Go online – there are lots of apps with birdsong, waves and other nature sounds (check out Sleep Orbit on Good Thinking). You can also download stargazing guides, watch live webcam footage of wildlife and take part in online campaigns, such as #MyWorldNow and #WilderFuture.
  • Make it a fun family activity set up a bird feeder or build a bug hotel in your garden. Visit a city farm or London Zoo. Have a competition to see how many plants and wildlife you can all name during a walk. Get the kids to draw a landscape or write a story about nature. You might even like to get involved with The Big Lunch neighbourhood get-together (5-6 June 2021) and organise an outdoor event for your local community.
  • Get creative – grab your phone and take a few photos of flowers, plants and wildlife in your neighbourhood that you could use as a screensaver, print off or share with your friends. Taking a photograph is a great way of connecting with the nature around you and creating a positive memory.

Useful websites

Canal and River Trust

Capital Growth

Eden Project

Explore

Grow Wild

London National Park City

Mental Health Foundation

Mind

National Trust

RSPB

The Big Lunch

The Wildlife Trusts

Thrive

Walking for Health

Woodland Trust

Check out Good Thinking’s articles about five ways to good mental wellbeing and how to get back into a routine after lockdown. You might also like to listen to our podcasts on nature , mindfulness, healthy screen/life balance and retaining hope and watch our video mini-series with members of the Speakers Collective.

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