Most of us experience a true sense of calm that comes with spending time outdoors. Whether that be at the beach, forest or woodland, even just sitting in the back garden. We explain the mental health benefits of being outdoors and discuss tips and ideas you can try.
There are many mental health benefits of being outdoors, spending time in or around nature and bringing nature into your everyday life can be extremely beneficial both for your mental and physical health/wellbeing. Being active reduces stress, increases your energy levels, and can make us feel more alert during the day which usually helps us to sleep better.
All sounds pretty great, right? We’ve put together some tips and ideas on how to bring nature inside and how you can spend more time outdoors.
Mind Charity says that taking part in activities like growing your own fruit, vegetables, or flowers, exercising outside, going for a walk, or just being around animals can have lots of positive effects on our mental wellbeing.
- Improve your mood.
- Reduce feelings of stress or anger.
- Help you take time out and feel more relaxed.
- Improve your physical health.
- Improve your confidence and self-esteem.
- Help you be more active.
- Help you make new connections.
- Provide peer support.
If you would like to read more from Mind, this information is published in full at mind.org.uk.
One of the most amazing things about us is that we’re all different. We all benefit from nature differently and how what we gain from time outdoors will be unique to each person. We have varying reasons for wanting to connect with nature. You might feel unsure about whether to try at first, but considering all the positive effects it can have, it’s definitely worth a try!
Nature and mental health problems
Spending time in nature is helpful for a lot of people who have mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. There is a type of therapy called Ecotherapy which is a formal treatment that involves doing activities outside in nature, it has shown to be very helpful for people suffering from mild to moderate depression.
Ecotherapy is a formal type of therapy that involves doing outdoor activities immersed in nature. Some Ecotherapy sessions follow a set structure and will incorporate types of talking therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Others are more informal and activities will vary depending on the time of year. Either way, you can take part in Ecotherapy alongside any other therapy you are already doing. It’s important to work out what is right for you. People in the group may or may not be experiencing or have experience of mental health problems. The main focus is working together on the shared activity.
There isn’t one single definition of Ecotherapy, but it’s often used to describe a regular, structured activity that is led by trained professionals who are there to support you. It will take place in local green spaces and you can choose to work alone or as part of a group, whichever suits you. It can be a really supportive environment that will allow you to work with nature, for example completing a conservation project or gardening. If you prefer just experiencing nature, such as enjoying the views on a walk, jogging, or cycling they do that too.
Being outside in natural light can also be helpful if you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects people during particular seasons or times of the year.
Bring nature inside
If you are unable to get out as much as you would like, there are lots of ways you can bring nature into your home. A huge positive is, nature is free! You could collect materials on a walk, for example, leaves, flowers, acorns, twigs, or tree bark, and use them for art projects (there are tonnes of beautiful ideas on Pinterest) Use them to decorate your living space. A great way to be creative whilst using natural resources.
Growing flowers or plants inside is an extremely rewarding activity. Have a look at Royal Horticultural Society website for tips on how to plant and grow seeds indoors. If you don’t fancy the work just buy flowers or potted plants to brighten up your living space.
If you enjoy photography, take lots of photos and when you see something that inspires you. Get home and upload then edit them or print them out and frame them. Make scrapbooks! Listening to natural sounds can also be really calming, such as the sounds of rainfall or ocean waves lapping against the shore.
Try outdoor activities
It doesn’t matter if you’re not super fit and athletic, just start with a walk. Go to a place you’ll love to explore, such as a local coastline or any green space such as a park. If you like to read then take a book out with you, find somewhere peaceful, and read outside. Following a woodland trail is a good place to start. Have a look at the Forestry Commission England and Natural Resources Wales (Cyfoeth Naturiol websites to look for woodland to explore near you.
If you’re physically already quite active, run or jog through a local park, or do yoga outdoors. You could try it by yourself, or look for local classes. Eating outside is a great idea too. Maybe meet a friend, have a wander and stop for a picnic in a local park, or simply sit in a garden. If your a really creative person try drawing or painting outside, if you enjoy writing in a journal, try doing this outside.
We often forget to look up. When was the last time you really looked at the sky and truly gazed at the sky? There are some great apps available or books to help you recognise different stars. Make sure you give your eyes time to adjust, as it can take about 20 minutes before you can fully see stars in the dark. For me, this activity works really well as it makes my worries/problems feel really small.
If you fancy being adventurous and love visiting the seaside take a trip to search the shoreline for interesting things. Driftwood, shells, and stones are great for crafting projects. You could also try geocaching, geocaching involves looking for items in hidden outdoor locations, using a device such as a mobile phone or tablet.
Whatever you choose try to be mindful in nature. Enlighten your senses and find things you can see, hear, taste, smell, and touch, like sand or grass under your feet. The feeling of wind and sunlight on your face. You could also listen to recordings of mindfulness exercises.
Connect with animals
Try wildlife watching if your an animal lover or you’re just interested in learning about different animal species. If you don’t live near open countryside you could try visiting a park to spot squirrels, fish, insects, and birds. There are lots of great farms you can visit and a lot allow people to help out by volunteering.
Simple ways you can encourage wildlife to visit your green space or garden are to hang a bird feeder outside a window. If you have space, buy or even build from natural materials a small nesting box on a tree or under a windowsill. Birdwatching is a great mindful activity and you don’t need any special equipment. See RSPB for information on bird watching.
If you’re a dog lover borrow a friends dog and walk them for an afternoon. Offer to be a pet sitter for friends/family or volunteer to walk dogs for a local animal shelter. If you enjoy being immersed in nature then have a look at the Big Garden Birdwatch, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and Big Butterfly Count nature surveys and give those a try.
Hopefully, we have encouraged you to try some of these tips and enjoy the mental health benefits of being outdoors! With another lockdown looming, it’s important we take care of our own mental health and check in on friends and family.