5 ways being in nature can support your emotional wellbeing
This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is Nature. Although I still have reservations about Mental Health Awareness Week, there’s good evidence that getting out in nature can support emotional wellbeing. People living in greener urban environments have been found to experience lower distress and higher wellbeing, so it’s worth considering how you can incorporate some nature into your life, to support your emotional wellbeing.
Here are some ideas:
1. Think about what you can access locally: London has some great hidden nature.
It can feel like a challenge in London to access green space. When I think of nature, I often dream of getting out of London, to connect with the sea or with open countryside. However, this can be hard to do and takes time, planning, transport and money.
London has some really beautiful green spaces hidden away, even in the inner city, which are easier to access. Tranquil city has made a map of hidden calm across London and sometimes runs guided walks to discover the chilled nature in your local area. You’re never far from the Thames Path or if you’re feeling more adventurous, there’s the Capital Ring where you can discover other parts of the city.
2. Take Notice: Engage with your environment mindfully.
One of the evidenced Five Ways to Wellbeing is to “take notice”, which means to really be aware of your environment and fully present in each moment, without judgement. This is being mindful. It’s super easy when we are out and about to be listening to our music or scrolling our phones whilst walking around. However, really noticing what’s around you, tuning in to your senses (e.g. what you can see, hear, feel, smell and taste) can help you engage with your environment in a different way, and can support wellbeing.
You can take notice at any time: When walking around; on a run; riding your bike or being outside on public transport. You might be surprised at what you notice: Trees in blossom, the sound of birds, the reflections on the water of the canal, the views over the city. You can mix things up by taking a different route and seeing what you discover: Different architecture, or hidden places you didn’t know about. Taking a moment to notice these things throughout your day can lead to feeling good.
3. Bring some nature into your home through gardening.
In urban spaces its unlikely you’ll have a garden, but you might have the opportunity to have a window box or to make use of a community garden or allotment. Deciding to plant something; tending to it; then watching it grow and flourish can be a great way to improve wellbeing. Gardening is used as a therapeutic intervention for people with mental health difficulties and has been found to increase positive mood and decrease feelings of stress, but it can benefit all of us, especially when done in a community-based group. It’s an opportunity to develop new skills, and experience a sense of “flow”, when you feel fully absorbed in an activity.
4. Spend time with animals.
Animals are an important part of the natural world and even in the city you can find some animals to spend time with. Given the lockdown surge in dog ownership, a visit to your local park should put you in the path of excited puppies and dogs, exploring their environment and playing. There’s a number of city farms or enclosures, like Mudchute Farm and Clissold Park. It’s also possible to see animals in their natural environment, like the deer roaming free in Richmond Park. You can hang out with animals that live locally: Keeping an eye out for birds, bees, ducks, and my favourite: Urban foxes.
5. Take your exercise outdoors.
At In Your Corner, we are massive advocates of sport and exercise, and the physical and emotional benefits they bring, so mix up your workout and get outdoors. Taking your cycle or run to the park instead of being inside the gym is a small difference that can lead to feeling more engaged with your workout and more motivated. Plenty of London parks have outdoor frames or gyms, and you can do HIIT or bodyweight exercises anywhere. All great boxers have mastered their skipping, and jumping rope is a great way to work on footwork in an outdoor location. Once lockdown restrictions lift, Parkrun should make a comeback and this is a great way to meet others and exercise together for free.
Bringing nature into your life can really help to improve both your physical and mental health. Whether it’s your local park or a little garden on your balcony, we can all benefit from the nature around us.