By Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe
A coalition of leading nature, environment and mental health organisations has launched a campaign this week to help people connect with nature and boost their mental health during lockdown.
The premise of the #VitaminN campaign is simple: a daily dose of nature can help us cope with stress and boost positive mood. That’s increasingly important while we are all housebound and our mental health can deteriorate.
The campaign brings together a variety of resources from participating organisations to help everyone’s mental health, at this difficult time. Examples of these activities include the RSPB’s birdsong radio, the Wilderness Foundation’s Badger Cam and an Easter-themed nature hunt from Jordans Cereals.
A large number of scientific studies show that experience of nature can improve health and wellbeing, and especially recovery from everyday stress and fatigue.
The current restrictions to movements outside the home mean it’s not as easy to visit our favourite parks and woodlands, but there are ways to connect with nature even from the safety of indoors. Just listening to birdsong from the window, or looking at a tree in the distance, can help people to feel happier and more relaxed.
With this in mind, here are my top 5 ways nature can boost your mental health:
1. The way we think
Nature can engage our attention effortlessly, through fascinating sights and sounds. Noticing these sights and sounds can help us recover cognitive resources that give us energy and inspiration throughout our day.
2. The way we feel
Nature can make us feel happier and more relaxed, especially when it is beautiful and tranquil. It can help us to generate feelings of positivity and give us the space to contemplate how we are feeling that day. Simple acts of propagating plants or looking at our favourite trees can be soothing and therapeutic.
3. Our body
Nature can reduce signs of physiological stress, reducing our heart rate, skin conductance, and blood pressure, and can provide us with the space to exercise and move our bodies – activities themselves related to health.
4. Different senses
We can engage with nature not just through sight but also through sound, touch, and smell. Utilising our different senses when engaging with nature can have positive physiological and mental effects. Try touching the leaves of a plant, appreciating the scent of a flower or listening to the morning birdsong outside your window.
We often associate pleasant memories of the past and especially childhood with having fun in nature. Memories of playing with friends and family in the garden, the first time we engaged with a certain aspect of nature on a school trip, or on a camping holiday can evoke happy memories, as well as give us the inspiration to make new ones.
Organisations contributing resources as part of #VitaminN include RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, National Trust, the Wilderness Foundation, WWF, Nature Friendly Farming Network, The Climate Coalition, Mental Health Collective and Jordans Cereals.
Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe is a Lecturer in Environmental Psychology at the University of Surrey and supporter of the #VitaminN campaign.
To get your daily dose of nature delivered to your news feed, follow #VitaminN today.
Tagged in Mental Health