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How I use nature when having a mental and physical health wobbles

It’s cliche, but nature is a healer, it’s free medicine if you take it regularly.

What it’s not, it’s not transactional. You cannot pop in your credit card or hand over your prescription paper and expect it to do the job right on the spot.

Allowing nature to be a part of your healing is threading back together the broken twines of our relationship with evolution and being part of the chain.

So why do we indulge in addictive behaviours; junk food, alcohol, drugs, social media or go to the doctors for more drugs to deal with our mental health issues when we have this free and natural medicine all around us? And to clarify, I am not saying nature is a cure all, but I do believe it’s a first step before any of the latter and can be a key part of your wellbeing routine helping you to become more resilient in times of stress.

Have you noticed that with every year, our societal norms change and these gaps become bigger decade upon decade, we can rarely remember what used to be the ‘ social normal’ even 5 years ago and, when we do, it becomes a point of nostalgia to remember the ‘good old days’. It frequently causes contention between the age gaps, ever heard this phrase? ‘That’s not how we did it in our day”.

Yet, it doesn’t stop our current day norms rapidly changing right in front of our eyes alongside the pace of technology. Looking down at your phone vs looking someone in the eye, ordering takeaway food from your smartphone vs cooking from fresh ingredients. The changes in laws, women’s rights, gay marriage, fashion, the list goes on and on. As humans we are still evolving but in some ways, devolving too. Often, instead of building on what we already have, we replace it.

In 1969 the internet was born, the first transfer of one simple message, then in 1995 it went mainstream. Let’s take a moment to comprehend what that has brought to the world in the past 25 years. Incredible advances in technology which have led to many breakthroughs in humanity, massive leaps forward in science, health, communication, artificial intelligence and so much more. On the flip side, it’s also developed a society addicted to social media, convenience, fake news and with it, an explosion of a global mental health crisis that is changing so fast we don’t know the scale of the impact.

“A study of more than 6,000 children aged 12 to 15 found those who used social media more heavily were more likely to report issues such as depression, anxiety and loneliness, as well as aggression and anti-social behaviour, than teenagers who did not use social media.

The study found that the use of social media for at least three hours a day was associated with around twice the risk of mental health problems, compared with those who shunned it.”

Imagine we had a teleporter and told our relative hunter gatherers, that in a few thousand years, the majority of the world population would spend their days sitting at a computer screen, whilst watching TV, checking our mobile phone, whilst eating takeaway food and all at the same time. They simply would not comprehend, but like COVID-19 this is very much our ‘new-normal’.

However, unlike technology, humans are not machines, we feel, and inside our genetic makeup we hold an instinctive draw to be close to nature and close to living things. Whether we like it or not, or whether we realise it or not, we are nature, we are part of the ecosystem.

OK, preach over.

Over the years, like many, I have faced various mental and physical health issues to varying degrees and will continue to over the years to come. You will too. It comes in cycles, it’s triggered by trauma, life events, the seasons and for some us, it’s the way we are wired.

Last year, for me, it was triggered by the seasons and I can tell you friends, the winter blues are real. I’d never experienced it like this before and it was combined with some pretty significant life changes which were amplified by the dark winter months.

My first northern winter in a long time was rough, and after the beauty of the seasonal change from summer to autumn now a distant memory. It was dark, cold, windy and YET, this was my choice and I knew patience was the key.

When feeling any type of negative emotions, my ‘go to’ is nature, but laying in wet grass in the rain or walking along the coast in a blizzard didn’t appeal to me too greatly. The ease of staying warm in a duvet and not leaving the house was much easier, but far worse for any headspace I needed to create.

In hindsight It was obvious the feeling would pass. Nothing is permanent. Not winter, not feelings, not even us. Using nature during the winter months is definitely more challenging and it wasn’t until the ‘Spring Awakening’ I could really feel these feelings lift because like nature, we live in cycles too. Although I don’t have the quick fix for the winter blues. I do have a few tactics that have helped me manage those days a little better and I do know I will continue to learn and explore what works best for me during these times and how they can be applied all year round to manage a balanced state of wellbeing.

So, if you have never explored nature to help manage your mental wellbeing, I invite you to get stuck in.

And when its spring — Seize the day and allow yourself to awaken with the season.

  • When you walk in nature, I find it far more nourishing to walk alone. To truly connect, all senses must connect. This is a bit more tricky when walking with a pal discussing how good the Netflix show you watched last night was. When walking alone, you will tune in to the movements, sounds and sights around you.

  • This one may be controversial because as much as I love to listen to the natural sounds of nature. Every now and then, listening to classical music, specifically the incredible pianist Ludavic Einaudi whilst walking in the woods, watching the trees sway, the long grass move like waves, in tune to the sound of the piano makes me feel at peace, protected and as one.

  • Stop, look and listen. It’s not an ‘in and out’ job. Find a spot that you feel drawn to, and sit. If you can, for a minimum of 10 minutes. Engage your senses, perhaps pick up a fallen leaf and study it closely. Rub the soil between your hands and be present to what is going on around you. Secondary to this, find yourself a regular spot both close to your home and if you work in an office, there too, where you can visit regularly. Allow this to become your ‘go to’ when you need a break from the screen, to ground yourself or to refresh your mind.

  • Get low — I have come to realise, or more so I am learning to accept and acknowledge that I am highly sensitive. This has pro’s and con’s. The good, is that I feel with very strong emotions, which when in nature is incredibly powerful. However, it is sometimes challenging when those emotions are negative. These feelings can quickly turn to overwhelm. A quick way to come down from feelings of intensity is to get low to the ground. Indoor or outdoor…. (Preferably outdoor.) lay down and feel all of your body sink and connect with the surface beneath you. Breathe deep belly breaths.

  • Walk barefoot — I have always been a sock-less, shoeless child but during the pandemic I’ve taken this to a new level. (back to the societal norms I mentioned earlier… we didn’t always wear shoes. You are not un-normal for walking barefoot…. In fact it’s the most normal thing you could be doing). The earth holds a vast amount of electrons and when we are in direct contact with it, it helps to emit free radicals from our bodies.

  • Digital distractions — I love tech and tech has helped me to love and engage with nature even more so. However, it is a handful of distractions and a spiral away from reality. Yet, unavoidable. These are my top tips to combine nature and tech.

1. Set your screensaver to scenes of nature

2.Change your alarm clock sound to bird singing or other nature sounds

3.Use apps such as ‘Picture This’ to identify plants or ‘ChirpOmatic’ to learn some

of the bird song to get you connecting and learning more about nature.

4. Rather than walking and texting, use your phone to take pictures and observe nature,

get close up and use the portrait and aperture functions on your phones.

5. Walk and talk, if you have a work meeting, take it on the go and talk outside whilst

having your meeting.

Whatever you do, get regular and weave nature into your daily routine. Myself included, I often find myself in a reactive state when it comes to my own mental wellbeing.

The suggestions above are definitely not extensive list but I do hope it gives you some ideas to explore. I would love to hear your suggestions also, what works for you and how do you find your wellbeing shifts during the year.

Remember, however you are feeling right now, know that it will pass.

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