How to Connect with Nature

For most of us, 2020 and 2021 have been both challenging and exhausting. The COVID-19 pandemic brought about some draining physical health concerns, social isolation, job dislocation, uncertainty about the future and related mental health issues.

In this wellbeing post we look at one area in particular that can help us feel both rested and rejuvenated throughout more difficult times.

Spending time in “green” environments (parks, bushland, hills), particularly when these are natural rather than urban settings is considered restorative – they help us to recover from the adverse impacts of both stress and anxiety.

Walk, run or cycle in nature

As simple as it may seem, nature actually connects and grounds us in a multitude of ways. Taking the time to think about this connection is one way you can get in tune with the natural world around you. This can be in a local park or in the nearby countryside. You can walk, run or cycle a path that has been trodden by many before, discover a new route on a map, or download an app that helps you find new walking routes near to where you live.

If you live near the coast, a beach walk is a great way to connect with nature’s power and beauty. Lakes, rivers and canals offer precious moments of interaction of wildlife that help us to escape the everyday stressors of modern-day life and connect us with our Earth. In all of these connections with nature, it gives our minds the chance to be able to escape the everyday, remind ourselves of some fond memories connected to nature, make some new memories and create some positive new habits for our health and wellbeing.

Find your green fingers

Gardening is another productive and restorative activity and inherently related to nature’s cycles. Gardening is continuous and can be characterised as “quiet sustainability” or “quiet activism”. Through the act of willing and helping things to grow we are imagining that spring and summer will come with the promise of renewal, growth and natural beauty.

Gardening is experienced as both a long-term project – transformations of the garden may take years to achieve – and as a spontaneous and an immediately rewarding activity. Many gardeners endure chore-like aspects such as weeding as part of their overall project of caring for the garden, which in turn appears to care for them and their wellbeing.

In a recent study of Danish allotment gardening, people thought of going to their garden patch as an “escape” – and used terms such as “refuge”, “oasis” and “haven” to describe their plot. Many gardeners also highlighted the sense of freedom access to outdoor space gave them along with a chance to relax and mentally unwind.

So, give yourself permission to play and disconnect. Get muddy, dig and weed, move and organise, create, have fun, get sweaty. If something catches your eye like an insect or curious seed case – stop, stare and learn. Be in the moment so you can allow yourself to wonder and rediscover childlike feelings and sensory experiences such as colours and smells. For those of us who might not see gardening as relaxing or fun, it really can be satisfying and rewarding.

So, yes, sometimes gardening or tending to plants or vegetables can be a bit of chore – a bit like outdoor housework. However, letting your imagination roam while doing those necessary, but boring jobs can add a layer of meaning and help to create a sense of purpose in the overall project of tending to your window boxes, flowerpots, allotments or garden. This is where time to think and be creative comes in. For example, you could plan your next holiday while raking leaves, or imagine a beautiful spring border when planting bulbs. Allowing the imagination to roam allows you to find enjoyment in a mundane task. And this sense of delayed gratification is an essential feature of gardening, no matter how big or small the project. It doesn’t matter if the enjoyment is in the task itself or in the freedom it gives to let the mind wander – just the fact you’re doing it is enough.

For those of us without much outdoor space, there’s still the opportunity to give our green fingers some exercise and to discover for ourselves the benefits this can bring. The Gardener’s World website has some great tips on creating houseplant displays and growing herbs and vegetables indoors or on balconies or windowsills. Alternatively, perhaps you can explore local volunteer gardening vacancies or sign up for an allotment.

We’d love to hear how gardening has helped you in lockdown and we’re inviting ISP colleagues from around the world to get in touch with us at [email protected] to share your experiences and photographs.

This post was written using content from articles by

  1. Tania Wiseman, Principal Lecturer, School of Health and Sciences, University of Brighton – taken from The Conversation
  2. Peter A. Heslin, Professor of Management and Scientia Education Fellow, UNSW – taken from The Conversation

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