According to the Mental Health Foundation, at least one in six of us have experienced a common mental health problem in the last week. That’s a scary statistic.
Especially in light of the current state of the world – from a global pandemic that has caused fear, unemployment, and isolation on a scale never before seen in most of our lifetimes, to protests and riots, as people of colour in America and beyond, fight for safety and equality – our mental health has never been more fragile.
The benefits of green therapy for mental health and wellbeing have long been documented. Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, stress, and increases pleasant feelings. A 2016 study from Natural England, commissioned by the University of Essex and Mind, the UK’s leading mental health charity, found that taking part in nature-based activities significantly contributed to a reduction in mental health conditions such as anxiety, stress and depression. What’s more, exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.
But why does nature have such a profound effect on our mental – and, by extension, physical – health? A recent study, led by researcher Craig Anderson and his colleagues, suggests it could be awe – that sense of being in the presence of something greater than ourselves, fills us with wonder.
Whether it’s a lack of public transport, the prospect of no holidays abroad this summer, living at home with no outside space, or fear of contributing to the already overcrowded parks in major cities, many of us currently feel cut off from these positive effects of nature.
However, you don’t need to go far to reap these benefits. Any of the following can help induce the same effects:
- If possible, leverage your current work from home situation and have your desk facing the window. Having a view of nature is a good start when it comes to feeling these benefits. Take a moment to notice the clouds moving overhead, the wind moving the trees or the flowers blooming.
- Paint a nature scene or find a photograph of nature you enjoy and hang it on your wall – images of nature can offer many of the same benefits as experiencing nature first-hand.
- Grow something (indoors or outdoors): you don’t need a garden to grow something! Planting up a simple pot with herbs or flowers that you can sit on your window sill works just as well. Tending to plants, even if you aren’t getting your heart rate up with rigorous weeding or digging, is good for our health.
- Stop and notice nature wherever you are – count the flowers you find as you walk or put your smartphone to good use and record what you see. Taking time to notice nature focuses your attention and boosts your mood.
- Learn something new about nature – there is evidence to suggest that continued learning throughout our lifetimes helps with self-esteem and that setting challenging but achievable goals are associated with higher levels of wellbeing.