July 1st 2021

Wellbeing and Nature

There is an increasing body of evidence that supports the positive impact that nature has on our wellbeing. From an early age, my grandparents and parents instilled a love of nature within our family, but I didn’t really appreciate it until I had my own children.

Looking back, some of the best memories I have are of being outdoors, having fun in all seasons and just feeling that sense of balance and freedom, being part of something much bigger than the usual minutiae of life.

This photograph is from a beautiful place that is very special to me. From visiting here with my parents, taking our children on holiday and enjoying time away with my husband, I never fail to return from this place without the soothing and balancing balm created from the rivers, mountains, wildlife and wildness.

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I recently read a journal article* “Flourishing in nature: A review of the benefits of connecting with nature and its application as a wellbeing intervention” that describes the impact of being outdoors on how our ancestors survived and thrived, the restorative space that nature creates on our emotional and spiritual wellbeing and the stress reduction processes that happen to even the most pressurised individuals when they connect with green spaces.

Given the pressures and demands of modern living and the perceived need for many people to be ‘switched on’ all the time, it’s refreshing to see so many individuals and organisations recognising and embracing the power of nature on our wellbeing.

Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post and Thrive Global shares many pieces of research that underpin the invaluable role that nature plays in enabling us to stay grounded, to achieve balance and to create space for wellbeing. Arianna shares findings from Mary Carol Hunter, an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan that “in terms of efficiently lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, you should spend 20 to 30 minutes in a place that provides you with a sense of nature”.

For some people that may be a challenge, but evidence suggests that even looking at photographs or listening to sounds of nature are beneficially to overall wellbeing and this is being recognised as part of healthcare pathways for those people who find it more difficult to be out in nature. There is also a shift, with still much further to go, in the recognition that for people in, for example, mental health or dementia units, their so-called challenging behaviours can be lessened through engagement in activities that involve nature and it’s aligned therapies e.g. mindfulness, gratitude and relaxation. I have seen first-hand, the positive impact this approach has on the individual, others in the unit and indeed the staff involved.

Some of my 1:1 clients have literally turned their lives around too, just by having the opportunity to share and explore what the barriers are in their lives, what makes them feel stuck and for the majority, they already know and have the solutions to develop and improve their personal and professional wellbeing, (although my thoughts are that both processes are interlinked, you can’t have one without the other). Wellbeing is all about balance!

For some of the community organisations that I’ve worked with, it has amazed me how they know and support those in their local areas who are in greatest need, but often at the risk of overlooking their own self-care processes. I’ve found that many community groups and organisations are motivated by making a difference, fixing things, looking at the good that’s around them but when they actually focus on their own wellbeing they become real and respected role models for others and that wellbeing practice has a ripple effect. That said, there are big challenges in terms of equality and opportunities for some communities to be heard and listened to.

I love the simple suggestions around instilling the therapeutic power of nature that Suzy Reading suggests in her book, “The Self-care Revolution”. Suzy, a qualified psychologist, found that these techniques were a lifeline to her at a time when a number of life changes and challenges left her “energetically bankrupt”:

  • Make the commitment to being in nature regularly, immersing all your senses in it and savouring the pleasure of it
  • Get out in the garden or if you don’t have a garden, take a walk and see what grows in your neighbourhood and bring nature inside
  • Seek out sunshine, sit in it, notice it’s warmth. Light a candle and gaze at it, contemplating what the light means for you
  • Savour a sunrise or sunset when you can and if possible watch it with someone you love to share the experience
  • Notice the environment around you – look out of the window, notice birds, flowers, leaves turning colour
  • Bring nature into your environment with shells, cones, crystals, plans, images

Individuals, communities and businesses are recognising the power of nature on wellbeing and building small steps into making changes that will bring us closer to nature and her healing properties.

You'll find some useful information here:

Thriving with Nature

Network of Wellbeing

Catherine Murnin

The Wellbeing Pathway Founder