According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74 per cent of us have been so stressed at some point over the past year that we’ve felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. Whilst this is a worrying statistic to be confronted with, it’s heartening to think that one of the most accessible and immediate ways we can alleviate feelings of stress is to step outside into nature. Those of us lucky enough to live in rural locations (just 17% of the UK population) have a head start!
There’s an array of proven health benefits from spending time outdoors, somewhere green. These include boosting your immune system, improving your quality of sleep, increasing your focus (for all you newly ensconced homeworkers) and lowering your risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. If we exercise outside, we tend to do it for longer, which boosts serotonin levels and makes us feel happier. Being outside is free and requires no special equipment, except perhaps a raincoat at this time of year!
There have been many pandemic-induced moments over the past year when I’ve been startlingly grateful for our surroundings. Although the enthusiasm for the daily family dog walk may have waned early in our foray into home-schooling, life in lockdown enabled us to appreciate living in our village in new and unexpected ways! From the beautifully maintained wildlife sanctuary to the old golf course as well as multitudes of newly discovered footpaths and bluebell spots, we’ve all enjoyed exploring the local area more on foot, by bike and even from horseback.
Thankfully benefitting from nature doesn’t have to involve getting clad in lycra or lacing up those running trainers! Being outside for just five minutes (especially in the morning to trigger your natural body clock) still brings numerous perks. Whether it’s to read your book, top up the bird feeder, have a cup of coffee or take a phone call it’s still worth your while. And if you can’t get outside, listening to the sounds of nature or looking at images of the natural word are both calming and meditative. You can download an audio app of birdsong or change your computer screensaver to an image of green trees. How about bringing flowers and greenery into your home? I joined a plant subscription service at the beginning of lockdown and still experience a spark of joy every month when I receive a new pot plant, especially air cleaning varieties such as Aloe Vera.
In recognising that this has been a tricky year for everyone – regardless of age or circumstance – it can be really helpful to try to implement some of these simple strategies in our lives. Our mental and physical health and overall wellbeing are enhanced through luxuriating in our beautiful world; to be surrounded by trees, Spring flowers, birds and animals, natural light and varied weather conditions. So with this knowledge under your belt, perhaps this month make a personal commitment to get outside more for your own wellbeing as well as the health of your community.