I recently wrote a piece for Girl Planet magazine, detailing my experiences with mental health and self-care. In that piece I spoke about how combining two of my greatest passions, nature and photography, helped me to cope with my anxiety. I am a firm believer that nature is one of the greatest healers; that it can do wonders for a range of mental health illnesses. No, it’s not a magical cure (or an alternative to medicine) but I really do believe it has a place in day-to-day life and should be a part of all of our self-care routines, where possible.
Here’s why I think nature is good for your mental health…
It takes you outside of yourself
Getting back to nature isn’t just about getting outside; it’s about taking you outside of yourself. When you’re depressed, anxious or feeling unwell it can be a great source of distraction. Speaking from my own personal experience, I am someone who is very inward-thinking. I spend an alarming amount of time worrying, analysing and just thinking about my flaws. But when I am outside, walking in a beautiful country park or ambling through woodland, it gives me a reprieve from all of that. Instead of thinking about my weight, my size or my shape I am too busy being consumed by feeding the deer, discovering wildflowers or watching the birds. There is always something interesting and beautiful to see and discover and, even if just for a short while, it takes me away from my problems and gives me something else to think about.
It helps with mindfulness
Mindfulness is a technique often taught in CBT to help sufferers deal with anxiety. The idea behind it is that you bring your attention to the present moment and focus in on what you are doing. This helps stop the mind from straying in to the negative “what if” type of thoughts and dwelling on situations you maybe can’t control. There are a lot of ways to practice mindfulness; colouring books for adults have been really popular in recent years. But my therapist used to get me to do mundane activities such as cooking or sweeping and focus all of my attention on what I could smell, what I could hear, what I could feel etc. Personally I found this really hard and, even though I practised it nightly I could never quite get to grips with it. But walking, particularly in an area that’s abundant with plants, trees and animals, is a great way to help achieve mindfulness. I find it’s good to pick one sense at a time but using them all at once can be good too. Out in the woods there is so much to see and so much to hear that it becomes quite simple to clear your mind and focus on the exterior rather than the interior noise. I particularly like listening out for bird calls, but the rustle of leaves is very soothing to me also. If you struggle with mindfulness, I can’t recommend taking the activity outside enough, It becomes much easier to practise and a much more enjoyable experience.
It helps facilitate exercise
Exercise is great for mental health; it helps produce the feel-good hormones, endorphins. However, having an understanding that exercise is good for your mental health and actually exercising – well those are two different battles. When you feel depressed or anxious it can be really hard to force yourself to do anything, let alone something you don’t particularly enjoy. And let’s be honest here, not everyone enjoys exercise. Walking is a really low-impact form of exercise but it’s effective in lifting and improving mood. Obviously you don’t need a field or park to walk around, but I really do find it helps. I am much more motivated to go for a walk when I know it will be in beautiful surroundings. When I know that I’m going to see some lovely deer. When I think about all the things I might spot. If I decide to take my camera with me, well that just gives me even more motivation to get outside and to get walking. It doesn’t feel like a chore or something you have to do when you enjoy it, and I never enjoy walking more than when I’m in my favourite country park or exploring a new one.
It can boost your mood and improve your state of mind
As I just mentioned, exercise is great for boosting and improving your mood so getting outside for a walk in the woods will definitely make you feel a little better. But it goes beyond that too, I think. Personally I really enjoy discovering different plants and I feel really excited when I spot the cotton tail of a rabbit darting just out of sight. Maybe it goes back to childhood and that inquisitive nature that seems to be instilled in all of us; when I’m outside I feel as if it hasn’t left me and I just want to discover everything. As we get older we ignore that desire to learn and explore to some extent and we focus on other things. However, being inquisitive has oftentimes forced me outside and helped me out of my bad moods. Getting back to nature makes me truly happy.
Do you have a passion for wildlife and nature? How has it helped you? I would love to hear your experiences with nature and mental health so please feel free to leave me a comment below!