“Ecotherapy”: How Nature Can Improve Our Wellbeing
In our modern and urban society, many of us live fast-paced lives; the work, social and personal pressures which this brings with it can negatively affect our mental health. It is well-known that a walk outside is good for our physical health, but evidence shows that it is just as beneficial for our mental health. Step One has gathered a few simple ways in which we can use nature to boost our wellbeing.
One way in which we commonly respond to our mental health troubles is through mindfulness, because doing so allows us to use all five of our senses to take in the world around us and return to living in the moment. Nature has the same effect as mindfulness because there are an array of stimuli for our senses to focus on. Evidence shows that time in nature can help to reduce stress and anger, allow us to relax, and improve our mood and self-esteem.
In order to activate our five senses, we could consider in turn all the natural things we can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. Perhaps we’ll spot some wildlife, hear some birds, smell the sea breeze… But doing this doesn’t necessarily require an extra outing; it can be done as we are walking through the park on our commute to work, or in our own gardens.
Furthermore, by giving back to nature, we can improve our mood and self-esteem. Whether we plant some bee-friendly plants (such as lavander), build a hedgehog house, or litter pick – feeling at one with our environment, contributing to its wellbeing, and using it as an escape from our workday routine, is mutually beneficial.
Whilst it may be hard for some of us to go outside into nature, whether due to accessability needs, mental health, or the current coronavirus lockdown, the upside is that we can bring nature into our homes. We might buy some house plants, spot birds through the window, or listen to birdsong or rainfall audios. We might even turn our creative skills to nature, by painting some flora or fauna, or writing a nature-inspired poem.
At Step One, we endorse the use of nature as a mental health support. Our Torbay Peer Support Project allows our service users to spend time thriving in nature through our Forestry Group and our Growing Together Gardening Group. These are free of charge and don’t require booking.
There are many more ways in which we can make the best use of nature to boost our wellbeing. The Mental Health Foundation and WWF have recently collaborated to write a guide entitled “Thriving with Nature”, available free to download and which contains many nature-based activities we can enjoy. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/thriving-with-nature/guide