Written by Meg Williams-Lucy
Throughout history, the relationship between humans and nature has been well documented. Nature is no longer an integral part of our lives as it once was.
However, now we are living through a pandemic, it has become clear that in one way or another, humans are meant to have a close relationship with nature, and the modern world we have created can be detrimental to our mental and physical health.
Anxiety is something that has at times, prevented me from functioning ‘normally’ in my daily life, even before covid-19 hit. Finding time in my daily routine to get outside is something that is integral to my health and I try my hardest to make time for this, whether it is a 10-minute walk or a 6-hour hike.
During my time working in mental health, walking groups were a consistent and important intervention and part of the weekly schedule for the patients. There are numerous studies showing evidence that being in nature and doing activities outside can help our minds to heal.
For instance, nature hikes, outdoor yoga, and outdoor therapy sessions, have been used as interventions and found to dramatically reduce the pressure on the mental health systems. For patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other disorders such as generalised anxiety disorder and substance abuse, this kind of intervention has the potential to reduce symptoms and boost our brains natural happy hormones.
Read below for just a sample of ways that nature therapy can be a beneficial form of therapy to improve our mental health and wellbeing.
Exercise can be fun!
When we exercise our bodies release hormones that can help to stabilise our mood and regulate our sleep patterns, a common problem among people struggling with their mental health. Exercise is a great way to help burn away some of that anxious energy, something I find highly benefits me in many ways, from helping me to quieten negative thoughts and increasing my mood in general. It helps me to be more productive during the day, both with work and with daily life admin (something I put off regularly), ahhh sweet anxiety.
Activities from hiking, cycling, swimming, yoga, or for the more adventurous type, kayaking, are just some of the ways to get the exercise outdoors that you need. If they all seem a little daunting then simply try starting with some simple stretches or go for a walk.
The common link between these forms of exercise is that they permit the person to be in a meditative state, focusing on the task at hand which in turn can help to reduce the effects of mental trauma. This is something I have found vital to help me during times when my anxiety is high. Repetitive movements help me to focus, regulate my heartbeat, and calm my intrusive negative thoughts that impact my day and sleep.
Let’s get sociable!
Outdoor therapy is becoming increasingly recognised as a form of intervention for mental health. When I worked in mental health, I was often based in medium secure male mental health units. As an occupational therapist I was in charge of creating group activities for the patients, such as gardening, walking and art groups. Using outdoor and nature therapy as a group intervention was one of the most successful groups in terms of participation. There are so many benefits to group intervention as it allows for a collective experience, a time for reflection, a safe space to allow for expression without fear of being misunderstood.
For individuals with severe psychological trauma and anxiety disorders, or for anyone struggling with their mental wellbeing, exposure to nature can be a great tool and platform in allowing more conventional therapy such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) to do its job.
Of course, this form of intervention can be used in addition to mainstream psychiatric approaches to recovery. Although, outdoor and nature therapy is accessible for almost anyone and is relatively easy to implement as well as being cost free!
So why not simply begin by implementing a 10-minute walk into your daily routine and see the effects on your mental wellbeing.