Stress is something that potentially we will all experience at some point in our lives. It manifests itself in many ways, and experts have suggested that stress is a response to the demands on life, crisis, work and fears. According to a study carried out by Forth in January this year, around 37% of British residents feel stressed for at least one full day per week - often due to work, money, lack of sleep and health worries - and 54% worry about the impact stress may have on their health.

One of the best suggested ways to combat stress is to relax, but in this modern age, with our busy schedules, meetings, and advances in technology this can at times be difficult to achieve. With the added impact of social media, our brains have become wired to receive and distribute digital information almost 24/7. Most of us can probably admit to using our computers and phones for more than a couple of hours a day, which (according to several studies) can lead to sensory overload and lack of sleep. We are constantly documenting our lives, snapchatting and tweeting everything we think or feel. In a way it could be said that many people have forgotten how to ‘live in the moment.’ This constant worldwide stream of information, whilst it has many positive aspects, has its hand in putting constant demands on our daily lives. With this in mind, it is vital that as individuals and communities we find the time to take a break and de-stress.

There are people who seem to know instinctively that spending time in nature is a good thing. Whilst some people might consider playing on their Xbox, listening to music, or baking a cake as one of their relaxation methods, if we can set time aside to spend out of doors surrounded by nature, the benefits could be far more rewarding. 

Time spent in natural environments is known to promote a positive outlook on life and enhance our ability to cope with, and recover from, stress, illness and injury.’

A simple walk through the woods can improve short-term memory, help lower blood pressure and hypertension levels, as well as improve self-esteem. Exposing your mind to restorative environments (an environment that promotes recovery from stress, i.e. the great outdoors) can help fight metal fatigue, anxiety, depression and a host of other mental health issues.

In the RSPB’s Natural Health report it was found that:

  • Nature reduces stress within minutes of contact
  • Playing in a natural environment improves children’s social, mental and physical development
  • Contact with nature improves children’s concentration and self-discipline
  • Nature can reduce violent behaviour due to its restorative effect on the part of the brain that helps reduce irritability

In the RSPB’s Natural Thinking report, Dr William Bird discusses the importance of improving mental well-being and health through a sense of belonging and identity created by visiting a certain place - often one that is green and has a strong connection to community. Our community at RSPB Sandwell Valley has grown significantly over the last few years from volunteers to regular visitors to School Groups. Through delivering a ‘Connection to Nature Experience’ we have helped many of these visitors discover a sense of belonging, as well as learn more about the natural world.

In our effort to encourage more people to spend time out of doors, RSPB Sandwell hosts several events throughout the year that include taking a gentle walk around the reserve. In contrast to more vigorous exercises such as visiting the gym or sports, walking is more accessible, community-driven and is available to all ages and abilities.

One of our most popular events is Forest Bathing, which is a Nature Therapy session run with our friends at Holistic Healing Therapy. It is designed to help calm the mind and body through a series of exercises that assist with relaxation, and many of our previous attendees have expressed an improved level of overall well-being and made new friends.

Our other upcoming events include:

  • Fungi-tastic Walks where we’ll be exploring our reserve for different mushrooms and toadstools on 8 & 10 November
  • An Autumn Walk on 24 November where we will look at all the changing colours of the season and look for the different signs of wildlife
  • Winter Warmer Walk, (perhaps our most popular seasonal walk), on 22 December, which will include a walk around the reserve and festive punch, hot chocolate and scrummy mince pies afterwards!

So, next time you’re feeling stressed, why not consider coming along to RSPB Sandwell? Whether you’d like to book onto one of our events, or simply come for a quick walk and a cup of tea you’ll be guaranteed to be met by a friendly team and enjoy a refreshing day out in our small patch of countryside.

For more information on the RSPB’s reports into physical and mental health and their connection to nature, see here

Photo credit: Emily White