Nature and mental health

Guest blogger Nicola Scholfield explains why the focus on nature for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week makes perfect sense.

Being in nature can be good for our mental health. It can have a calming and restorative effect, reducing stress and blood pressure, and helping us feel more creative and productive. Nature can also help bring some relief to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

So it’s little wonder then that Nature is the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (10th-16th May).

Studies suggest that it’s not necessarily about the amount of time we spend in nature that’s important to our mental wellbeing, but how we experience and interact with nature. In particular, tuning into nature can benefit our mental health. Feeling a close relationship to nature is also linked to feeling good, functioning well day to day and feeling that life is worthwhile.

Encouraging such a connection to nature can be simple: taking moments to notice the good things in nature that we can see, smell, touch and hear; appreciating beauty in the natural world; and noticing the positive feelings that nature can bring.

Beech leaves in the light

Over the last year, noticing and enjoying nature everyday has become important for my mental wellbeing. From watching the birds while I drink my morning cuppa to catching the fragrance of flowers as I walk past.

I’ve got to know an oak tree that I pass while walking the dog, which I’d never really paid much attention to before. Last autumn I began stopping for a few moments when I passed the tree, taking some time to notice it. I’ve felt the texture of its bark, listened to birds singing in its canopy, spotted different types of fungi emerging on the fallen branches and twigs beneath it and watched the movement of its branches on a windy day (from a safe distance). Recently I’ve been really pleased to notice the gradual unfurling of its leaf buds – spring has truly arrived!

Looking up into the oak tree

I feel that these moments helped to lift my spirits and cope with the ups and downs of life in lockdown, which at times I found stressful. Further, they helped me to experience my usual walks and local greenspaces in new and enriching ways, and build a closer bond with my natural surroundings.

Many of us have been spending more time in nature as a result of the pandemic. A survey by Natural England last May found 9 in 10 people agreed that natural spaces are good for mental health and wellbeing, and more than 40% noticed that nature, wildlife, and visiting local green and natural spaces had been even more important to their wellbeing since the coronavirus restrictions began.

I hope the benefits of a close relationship with nature become more widely recognised. By working to bring the benefits of a wildlife-rich, healthy natural world into every part of life – where we live, learn, work and play – it’s clear we can benefit not only our own wellbeing but nature’s too.

This Mental Health Awareness Week, why not take a moment each day to notice and enjoy the good things in nature: the sights, sounds, smells, beauty and natural wonders that are all around us.

Wood sorrell

Nicola will be leading an event for CPRE Bedfordshire members this summer. Join us on a forest bathing walk within the beautiful natural setting of Linslade Wood. During this gentle walk, you’ll find out about how nature can support our mental health and will be guided in activities to help you experience the benefits of tuning into nature. Wednesday 30th June, 10am – 12pm, Linslade Wood, near Leighton Buzzard. 

Meadow flower Nicola Scholfield
Quernmore landscape