Last reviewed on 17 December 2020
Has going for a walk in your local park or sitting outside helped you during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak? According to the Mental Health Foundation, almost half of UK adults who felt stressed because of COVID-19 said that being able to visit green spaces had helped them to cope.
Many studies have found links between nature, wellbeing and mental health – being outside can reduce stress, improve mood and encourage physical activity. 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.
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.
- 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 Autumnwatch or Our Planet, can make a difference.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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 or print off.
- 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. Arrange a picnic and enjoy the simple soundtrack of nature around you. Get the kids to draw a landscape or write a story about nature.
- Find out more – the Mental Health Foundation and WWF have produced a free Thriving With Nature guidebook, which contains lots of ideas to get you outside.
Canal and River Trust
London National Park City
The Wildlife Trusts
Walking for Health
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 mindfulness, healthy screen/life balance and retaining hope.