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How connecting with nature can boost your mental health

A reflection of mindfulness, nature and wellbeing.

Helen Marshall Chief Learning Officer

How connecting with nature can boost your mental health

It's mental health awareness week, and this year, the theme is nature. This is no surprise really: being in nature is known to be an effective way of keeping us emotionally, psychologically and physically healthy. 

Research from the Mental Health Foundation found that nearly half of people in the UK said visiting green spaces helped them to cope throughout the pandemic. 

When we talk about being in nature, the research also suggests it's most beneficial when you take time to experience it with all of your senses. 

The sound of wind blowing through trees. The smell of freshly cut grass. The crunch of leaves in autumn. The salty tang in the air when by the seaside. Nature gives us these little moments of joy and calm; it's up to us to connect with them.

Because that's what it's all about really. Connection. The Mental Health Foundation defines this as:

"A strong connection with nature means feeling a close relationship or an emotional attachment to our natural surroundings."

So visiting green spaces is only half the story. Actively noticing and appreciating the nature around us too is what unlocks the greatest mental health benefits.

Mindfulness and a connection with nature

Reading this got me thinking about if there is a link between connecting with nature and the practice of mindfulness. The NHS website defines mindfulness as:

"Paying more attention to the present moment - to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you - can improve your mental wellbeing. Some people call this awareness 'mindfulness'."

In other words, being really tuned into everything that's happening in the present moment. The research suggests that this can help us enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better, improving our mood and wellbeing.

Time spent in nature seems to reap similar benefits for many of us. In a recent review of the health and wider social benefits of green space, Public Health England reported that:

"Evidence shows that living in a greener environment can promote and protect good health, aid in recovery from illness and help with managing poor health."

The call to action

During mental health awareness week, the Mental Health Foundation are asking us to do three things:

  • Experience nature: take time to recognise and grow your connection with nature during the week.
  • Share nature: take a photo, video or sound recording and share the connections you’ve made during the week, to inspire others.
  • Talk about nature: discuss how you can help encourage people to find new ways to connect with nature in your local environment.

This is something we've been encouraging and exploring at THRIVE this week, with a campaign set up on our THRIVE Learning & Skills Platform asking us to share our favourite spots in nature and what they mean to us. 

Mental health awareness week and beyond

Sure, nature is not going to solve all of our mental health issues. But connecting with nature can play an important part in improving our mental wellbeing and help us feel better about ourselves.

On a wider scale, mental health matters every single day of the year. While this week provides a great opportunity to start a conversation about all aspects of mental health, it's important that these continue throughout the year too. This is something we can all do within our homes, workplaces and communities.

As part of mental health awareness week, we’re giving away this completely free self-care booklet that looks at interesting ways your people can weave self-care into their day, supercharge their wellbeing and keep their mental health in good shape. Download yours for free now.

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