The healing power of nature
In her deeply personal account, the RSPB’s Amy Morrison recalls the powerful impact nature has had on her health and wellbeing, and explains how you can reap the benefits too.
I was 16 years old and struggling with my mental health. It continued to get worse over the next five to six years, but through the whole time, I had one thing I could rely on, one thing that I always knew would never let me down: nature. No matter how sad, angry or let down I felt, nature was always there for me.
I remember sitting outside on numerous occasions just listening to birdsong, feeling the wind whip around me and smelling the sweet, rich smell of damp earth. I didn’t realise it at the time, but these moments would ultimately result in me working for the RSPB.
I first started working here looking at the health benefits of nature for people, and the importance of people feeling connected to and a part of nature. It’s a fascinating area and learning how important nature is for us was eye-opening – and highlighted yet another reason why we need to save nature. By taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch you’ll not only be giving yourself some time out to connect with nature, you’ll be playing a vital role in monitoring the health of the UK’s wildlife.
There’s a growing body of scientific evidence to suggest that getting outside and connecting with nature is good for us. Here are just a few of the wide-ranging health benefits of nature:
- Reduction in high blood pressure
- Reduction of stress levels
- Improved immune system functioning
- Reduction in allergy symptoms
- Support for the digestive system
- Improved levels of wellbeing
- Reduced feelings of loneliness.
Enjoy the great outdoors
Based on this research and my own experience, here are my top tips for improving your health and wellbeing through nature:
- Spend at least one hour a week (ideally five hours a month) in a natural environment.
This could even be a local park. Try to spend time noticing the wildlife around you – taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch is a perfect way to do this.
- At least once a month, go to a natural environment you don’t usually go to.
Instead of visiting a park, why not explore somewhere a little wilder?
- Exercise outside.
Evidence suggests that – even if you’re not keen on exercising – if you do it in a natural environment, you’re likely to work harder, do it for longer and keep it up. Exercise is also brilliant for boosting your mood and decreasing stress. If you don’t fancy going for a run, why not try a long walk or doing some conservation volunteering?
- Be sociable.
Maybe join a local walking or nature group or head outside with friends to get your nature fix.
Get the most from nature
- Stop and notice the world around you.
In Japan, they get people to experience nature with all five of their senses through “forest bathing” or shinrin-yoku. Why not see what you can hear, smell, feel, see and maybe even taste when outside? Try to focus on what colours, sensations and feelings you see and experience while outside.
- Take time to reflect.
Nature can be a brilliant way to socialise, but it can also give you time to reflect. Make sure you allow yourself the space to get outside by yourself – this alone-time to connect with nature might be one of its biggest benefits.
- Unplug yourself.
Leave your phone, camera and all other gadgets at home. Most evidence suggests that technology can distract you from connecting with nature and therefore limit the benefits you can experience from it.
- If you have children, get them outside as much as you can.
A large amount of research has been carried out into the diverse benefits for children of contact with nature and the outdoors. These benefits include positive impacts on education, physical health, emotional wellbeing and personal and social skills. Spending time outdoors also introduces children to a resource that could potentially support their health and wellbeing as they grow older – and they might be more likely to look after nature in the future as well.
If you've been affected by the topics discussed in this article and want to learn more, contact the mental health charity Mind, for help and advice.