How nature positively affect our physical and mental wellbeing

As part of MHAW (Mental Health Awareness Week) this week, Learning & Development Business Partner, Aaron Ingham, talks us through the many benefits of connecting with nature.

A number of different studies have shown that spending time in nature can help with mental health challenges, such as depression and anxiety. Being outside in natural light also has physical benefits, especially for anyone that experiences ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ (SAD).

Exposure to natural sunlight and its UV rays gives us vitamin D (essential for maintaining healthy bones and boosting the immune system), as little as 10-15 minutes exposure a day will help to keep you healthy. To get the same amount of vitamin D from a diet, you would need to eat around 19 eggs!

There are many benefits of getting outdoors and connecting with nature; 

  • it improves your mood,
  • reduces feelings of stress and anger,
  • helps you to take a bit of time out for yourself,
  • improves confidence and self-esteem,
  • keeps you active,
  • and allows you to make new connections.

I’m sure that a large number of us over the past year or so have probably walked more than we ever normally would, and I have no doubt quite a few people will have been regularly smashing their step count personal bests. Walking is great, but there are a whole host of other ways to engage with nature and the outdoors and, now that things are beginning to reopen and COVID rules are relaxing to a degree, we have more opportunities to do more exciting or adventurous activities.

If you have had your fill of walking, you could try growing or picking food (such as fruit and vegetables), bringing nature inside or doing what you have been doing inside - outside, helping the environment, connecting with animals, finding green spaces in the city, or getting creative (i.e. trying landscape photography or painting outdoors).

'My mental health has taken a bit of a knock; how do I overcome barriers that are stopping me getting outside?'

There are a number of reasons why some of us may find barriers that are stopping us from engaging with nature and the outdoors, it may be that;

  • you are unaccustomed to spending time outdoors or in green spaces - which makes you feel uncomfortable,
  • you get tired easily or struggle with physical activity,
  • you find spending time outside (particularly around other people) challenging,
  • you are worried about the costs of doing things,
  • or you are feeling low and unmotivated – maybe it doesn’t quite feel like the right time for you.

If you have found it challenging, here are some suggestions that you may want to try:

  • Start small – Try spending just five minutes paying attention to nature in your everyday life, as even small amounts of time can give your wellbeing a boost
  • Do things you find relaxing – You might like to sit under a tree, look at the stars or do mindfulness or art activities in natural surroundings
  • Ask for support – For example, if you feel anxious in new places or social situations, you could ask someone you trust to go with you at first
  • Work with your highs and lows – Consider which times of day you feel most energised, and when you find things harder. You might want to avoid times of day when side effects of any medication you take seem to cause more problems for you
  • Don’t blame yourself – Managing a mental health problem can be really difficult, especially when you're not feeling well. There are many other nature ideas you could try, and other options for treatment and support – different things work for different people