Nature and Mental Health
Nature and Mental Health
The more time I spend outside in nature, the better I feel. So, it’s not surprising that the Japanese have embraced this form of ecotherapy, calling it Shinrin-Yoku, the art of forest bathing.
If you want to learn more about the research and practical applications of forest bathing, I highly recommend reading Shinrin-yoku: The Japanese Way of Forest Bathing for Health and Relaxation by Yoshifumi Miyazaki
Prescribing Nature as Medicine
It's proven that time in nature, regardless of the season, can be a powerful stress reliever for most people. Nature is a form of medicine, and it helps us cope with the hectic pace of the modern world.
As we step outside and allow our senses to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the countryside, we are instantly brought into the present moment.
When we are stressed, we often spend more time thinking about the past or worrying about the future, so channelling nature as a way to reset is powerful medicine.
The Challenges to Regular Nature Breaks
The connection between improved mental health and spending time in nature is so obvious, that it makes me wonder why I sometimes find spending time outside so hard to do.
Let’s look at some challenges:
1. Responsibilities and obligations
We all know how life gets in the way of the things we love to do the most. As humans, we are conditioned to put responsibilities and perceived obligation ahead of everything else.
As a business owner, I spend a lot of my time believing I should be sat at my desk working, and if I’m not, I see that as a direct reason for not achieving a goal or dream. This is the challenge of the entrepreneur mindset, and something I battle with often.
Do you experience this too?
I have to remind myself of how amazing I feel after time in the countryside. Often, the next day I am more creative, inspired and motivated as a result. By spending time in nature, I actually support my business, clients and customers, although my mind needs to be constantly persuaded of this.
2. Difficulty putting yourself first
Does getting outside and enjoying the magic of nature sometimes feel like a selfish act? Yeah, it does for me too.
I have two dogs, and although I love taking them for walk, sometimes I like to just be alone, not being pulled in two directions and not having to deal with 💩. However, I don’t do this enough and often feel they should go everywhere with me.
Putting myself first is hard. It’s something I am working on, and I am using my desire to explore the countryside as my trigger to create a new positive habit.
3. Being prepared for the weather
Here in the UK, the weather is mostly wet, often cold, regularly windy, and usually not what was forecast. This is all down to our small islands position between the Atlantic Ocean and continental Europe. There are five main air masses that meet exactly where we are situated, which means anything can happen from day to day.
For this reason, I don’t leave the house without a backpack of supplies.
I keep a pre-packed bag under the stairs with hat, gloves and waterproofs inside and I am now so used to carrying these on every walk that I don’t think twice about it.
I also invest in my kit. I make sure to buy the best I can afford when it comes to hiking boots, walking trousers, warm mid-layers and waterproof top layers.
My kit means I can be comfortable in most weathers. However, I do draw the line at sideways rain and gales, as that just makes me angry!
The trick is to be prepared for most weathers and know your own limits.
As I write this, I am looking out of the window at a standard UK damp grey day. It certainly doesn’t look inviting. However, a few hours early, I took the dogs for their morning walk. As I stood in the field, noticing my hair get bigger due to the damp air, I thought, “it’s lovely out here”.
My motivation for heading outside when I’m on the inside looking out is often very different to how I feel once I’m outside.
I know that I can’t be motivated to head out while I’m inside, especially if the weather doesn’t look inviting. But once I’m out, it's often a very different story. Sometimes, all it takes is a moment stood in the garden to realise it’s not as bad as it looks and my desire to go for a walk increases.
5. Where to go and what to do
Recently, I talked to a friend about how I use the OS Maps app to give myself some freedom and get out into nature. I thought it would be a good thing to share with you too.
I subscribe £4.99 a month to OS Maps on my phone. I use the app to plot routes and explore the local area.
As you may remember, I relocated to the gorgeous village of Ingleton at the end of last year. It’s like the hiking Mecca of the UK, and I love it.
However, as I hike mostly on my own, I like to explore short routes I can take from my front door. The way I do this is to investigate the local bridleways and footpaths.
I’ve made it a project to walk down each of the dotted lines on the map that I can get to from my house. As I do so, I build up my knowledge of the local area, discover places I would never have known existed, and become much more capable of creating bigger routes by connecting the paths I’ve walked.
If you want to get out more, but don’t know where to go, I highly recommend getting the OS Maps app and just heading out to explore. I guarantee you will find something you never knew was there.
Nature is a reset button that should be pressed often.
It's easy to connect with nature during the warmer months, as we naturally spend more time outside. But during the shorter colder days, when the weather is less inviting, we bypass nature for cosier indoor options.
Connecting with nature in the darker months isn't as desirable, but it's not impossible. There are still some wondrous things to enjoy.
For example, I love:
- Taking photographs of the trees turning into their autumn colours
- Look around the woodland floor for mushrooms
- Wearing woolly hats, scarves and gloves
- Splashing around in the mud in my big winter boots
- And I especially love the snow and head outside as soon as it starts falling from the sky.
What do you love about nature?
Make a list of the things you love about getting outside at all times of the year, to remind yourself of how easy it is to love nature all year round.
What if it's not practical to connect with nature by getting outside?
Well, I've got some indoor suggestions for you that I love to indulge in to help me connect with nature even on the wildest of winters.
Things to Watch:
- On Amazon Prime, check out:
- Intelligent Trees
- Kingdom of the Forest
- A Symphony of Summits
- On Netflix, check out:
- Fantastic Fungi
- My Octopus Teacher
- Night on Earth
- On YouTube, check out:
- 4K Relaxation Channel for the most beautiful nature from around the world.
- On Disney, check out:
- One Strange Rock
- Welcome to Earth
Things to Read:
- Entangled Life - How fungi make our world, change our minds and shape the future by Merlin Sheldrake
- Rewild Yourself - 23 spellbinding ways to make nature more visible by Simon Barnes
- A wild remedy - How nature mends us by Emma Mitchell
- Shinrin Yoku - The Japanese way of forest bathing for health and relaxation by Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki
Tell me your thoughts
- What do you love about getting out into nature?
- How do you like to reconnect with nature even when the weather isn't very supportive?