Having a meaningful connection with nature is essential to our mental health and wellbeing, but what does that really mean?
This May, Mental Health Awareness Week was centred around an important and intriguing subject – nature. Whether one finds it in time spent in green spaces, by a meandering waterway, or lovingly tending to your houseplants, your connection to nature is a crucial element of supporting good mental health in all of us.
Spending time in nature can have some astounding effects on one’s mental health, significantly reducing anxiety, depression, stress, and anger, as well as greatly improving feelings of self-actualisation, relaxation, and your self-esteem.
However, interestingly, the Mental Health Foundation states that it’s not necessarily the quantity of time that we spend in nature that counts, but the quality of that time.
In other words, it’s really important that we connect with nature.
‘Connecting with nature’ is a term that can get thrown around a lot. So much so, you’d be forgiven if it conjures images of ‘hippy-dippy-tree-huggers’ rather than your own relationship with nature. Although trees definitely give some of the best cuddles, these kinds of connotations tend to be more abstract and out of reach, which isn’t particularly productive when we’re talking about something that is very real, and very important to our relationship with ourselves, our minds, and our world.
So, what does it really mean to connect with nature?
Connecting with nature is all about feeling like you have a close relationship and emotional attachment with the natural world. These can be feelings of empathy, care, and even love.
We can bring this about through mindful, focused, sensual activities in nature: really paying attention to the way that your houseplants are growing, listening intently to the beauty of birdsong and the wind in the trees, feeling the grass and soil beneath your feet and fingers, or a tree’s bark beneath the palm of your hand.
It’s important to stop, turn your attention to nature and really feel the impact it has on you – the feelings of peace, prosperity and partnership. We call it a connection to nature because it’s about realising that we are connected to it in a way that the modern world doesn’t often acknowledge.
We are, in the most objective sense, animals. We grew up in nature, depended upon it, and lived amongst it for hundreds of thousands of years. In many ways, we still do. It is our natural habitat and that hasn’t changed in the last couple of centuries.
But more than that, we are a part of nature, not apart from it, in just the same way that the trees, the birds, and all the animals of the world are.
It can be incredibly easy to forget that – each of us becoming so trapped within the cube of human civilisation with our phones, jobs, and everyday worries that we lose that sense of being a piece of the world that we live upon.
Even with our words, we draw a sharp distinction between ‘the natural world’ and our own, as if we are inhabiting an entirely different place, born of some different ancestry, utterly apart from all else that we know of the universe.
It’s here that problems start to arise.
Returning to our ancestral home can be a wonderful antidote – noticing the place from which we come, the incredible beauty within it, and therefore within us. There is an astounding amount to be learned from nature, and an inconceivable amount of solace to be found in it.
One can see everything in the world around us and draw comfort in it. You can see seasons and weather come and go with beauty and wonder, heartbreak and horror, but must importantly, an infinite capacity for healing and growth.
All you have to do is look.