This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year, the theme is ‘Why nature?’. The Mental Health Foundation
have highlighted that, since the pandemic, people have realised how important connecting and nature is to our wellbeing. As part of our contribution to the campaign, today's blog answers why that is, and provides you with a list of things to do, places to visit and sets you an optional challenge to help you get back to nature.
What is nature?
The oxford English dictionary defines nature as:
“the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.”
Wellbeing is the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy.
How does immersing yourself in nature help your wellbeing?
The Green Walking Guide highlights that “access to the natural world is a vital element in our wellbeing, perhaps particularly when we are at our most vulnerable’ - Professor Catharine Ward Thompson, University of Edinburgh. Exposure to nature contributes to physical wellbeing as well as making you feel better emotionally.
Immersing yourself in nature is calming. Studies have proven that nature helps to reduce stress, anxiety and depression – so when feeling low, taking to the woods, walking around the block or heading to water can help lift your mood.
Studies also show that viewing nature scenes improves concentration, which may help with problem solving. “Even indirect contact with nature—technologically-mediated nature via virtual-reality immersive experiences, watching nature documentaries, or even simply viewing slideshows/photos of nature—has been shown to be good for our mental health albeit, exposure to live nature has a stronger beneficial effect” – Richardson et al.
Furthermore, there is the added benefits of connectedness, one of the five ways to wellbeing. Firstly, feeling connected to the world around you (sometimes known as spirituality) can help you feel more balanced. You can read more about how connecting with nature has helped our students on our student Kirsty's blog. Secondly, studies show that those who lived in the countryside felt more connected with neighbours than those who lived in urban areas. Joining community conservation or nature related activities can help people feel valuable and connected.
With regards to physical benefits, nature soothes and distracts us from our discomforts, helping us to cope with pain. “Trees and woods can have a restorative and therapeutic effect on the mind” – Hartig, Evans, Jammer, Davis and Garlig. Similarly, scientific studies have proven that viewing flowers, plants and trees from hospital windows speeds up recovery – so flowers really do make people feel better!
According to scientists such as public health researchers Stamatakis and Mitchell, immersing yourself in nature may even reduce mortality. In 2004 and 2007, the RSPB sponsored reports to outline the physical and mental health benefits arising from contact with nature. Benefits included reductions in health concerns such as diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart disease as well as stress and aggression.
As a side effect, immersing yourself in nature often requires physical exercise, such as walking. As well helping you physically, walking has the potential to fulfil many other needs, including reducing boredom and increasing your sense of independence and self-esteem. You can read more about the benefits of walking for your wellbeing later in the week.
What activities can you do in Hertfordshire?
This is where it gets interesting!
Hertfordshire residents are fortunate to be surrounded by nature in abundance, and there are many activities that you can do to take advantage of this. From spotting birds at Nature reserves, like Panshanger Park in Welwyn, going pleasure boating at Lee Valley or learning about the ruins at Verulamium park in St Albans, there is something for everyone.
In Hertfordshire, residents can:
- Visiting farms and nature reserves
- Walking in woodlands or walking trails
- Heading to bodies of water, like lakes, beaches and canals
- Finding local cycle routes
- Joining a park runs
- Taking the kids to find treasure
- Starting a walking group with your friends
- Go bird watching, fishing and animal spotting
- Take up gardening, growing herbs and foraging for food
And we’ve put together a list of websites to help you discover nature in Hertfordshire - all you have to do is click on the picture below to open the PDF and pick a website via one of the images on the PDF!
- Pick a nature activity you and / or your family would find enjoyable from the list above. Do you enjoy walking in the woods or fishing at a lake?
- Click on one of the images to find a list of websites related to the activity, such as Hertfordshire walking trails
- Plan to do one of the tasks within the next two weeks
We’re offering students the opportunity to send pictures of the places they visit or write about their experience for our Newsletter. You could tell us about new activities you’ve tried or how immersing yourself in nature has helped your wellbeing.
Submit all entries securely by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bird, W (2004) ‘Natural Fit’, RSPB - www.rspb.org.uk/Images/natural_fit_full_version_tcm9-133055.pdf Bird, W (2007) ‘Natural Thinking’, RSPB - www.rspb.org.uk/Images/naturalthinking_tcm9-161856.pdf
Hartig, T., Evans G.W., Jamner L.D., Davis D.S., and Gärling T. (2003). ‘Tracking restoration in natural and urban field settings.’ Journal of Environmental Psychology 23, 109-123.
Richardson, M., Passmore, H, A., Lumber, R., Thomas, R., & Hunt, A. (2021). Moments, not minutes: The
nature-wellbeing relationship. International Journal of Wellbeing, 11(1), 8-33. https://doi.org/10.5502/ijw.v11i1.1267