This year's Mental Health Awareness Week’s focus is on nature. Many of us have known for years that taking a walk in nature can help “clear our mind”. But can nature help us do more than just this?  

The relatively new area of research into human “Nature Connectedness” has revealed that a deeper connection with nature can bring us joy, wonder, a sense of belonging and improve our overall mental health and long-term wellbeing. In fact, the Nature Connectedness Research Group at the University of Derby was recently honoured in the UK’s 100 Best Breakthroughs list by Universities UK.  

Below is an outline of the five ways to help you connect with nature, at home and at Loch Leven. 

Senses 

We can actively engage with nature using all our senses. 

Sound: Listening to birdsong, the wind rustling the leaves or the trickling of a stream or waves crashing on a beach. Try and pick out individual noises and focus on them. 

Smell: Smelling wildflowers, or simply taking deep breaths and taking in the forest air. 

Touch: Feeling the textures of nature, the bark of different trees, softness of moss or dip your feet into a cold stream. 

Sight: Notice the colours and patterns of nature. Focus on the intricacies of a small plant or insect then look up at something vast, a tree or a view over a landscape. 

My app tells me this is a spotted dead-nettle. Does it sting? Only one way to find out...

Emotion

We can connect emotionally with nature too. Experience the joy as you watch the fluttering of the first butterflies of summer, or the wonder as thousands of geese take off for their feeding grounds at dawn. Share these special occasions with others.

Noticing other organisms and trying to understand the trials and journeys other species must go through can sometimes make our own problems seem a little more trivial.

After 4 weeks of nesting, the first grainy image of RSPB Loch Leven’s 2021 brood of cygnets.

Beauty

Take time to appreciate the beauty of nature. Engage with the smallest details, from the patterns, line and colour of wildflowers or insects, to the grandness and complexity of an ancient oak or the vastness of a landscape view.

There is also beauty in movement. Whether it be the swaying of trees in the wind, the murmuration of starlings or simply the flashes of yellow as a flock of starlings fly by. Beauty in nature is all around us, even in our cities.

Capture beauty through art and photography (a phone camera works well) or with words of poems and music.

Our very own bumblebee meadow speaks for itself really!

Meaning

Nature inspires us to make music or create art, and we can use nature to represent an idea or a feeling; robins are a symbol of hope, blowing dandelion seeds for wishes, flowers are a sign of love or affection, and the sun rise the beginning of a new day.

For some, it is the first redwing of the year that brings the first signs of winter, a time for reconnecting with family and friends. Take time to think about what nature means to you.

Cowslip: one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom. Not as well-known as a daffodil (a bit snazzier though), but a sign that longer, warmer evenings are coming.

Compassion

There are many simple ways to care for nature. Some can be done at home, such as creating homes for wildlife by building a bug hotel or making shelters for hedgehogs, or providing food for butterflies and moths by turning a lawn into a wildflower meadow or putting food out for birds.

Outside of your home, you can volunteer with a conservation charity or support a community wildlife garden. Even rethinking shopping habits and being more aware where our food is from and what impact it may have on wildlife is an act of compassion.

Only a day of volunteering with us can give you smiles that big!

Find out more about the health benefits of nature at:

https://www.derby.ac.uk/research/centres-groups/nature-connectedness-research-group/

https://findingnature.org.uk/

https://www.hutton.ac.uk/research/projects/green-health

Written by Daniel Wright

 

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