Nature’s guide to post-lockdown life
As the UK is emerging from the lockdowns and starting to venture out into a more social way of being again, it is my hope that some of the changes to our lifestyles won’t fade with the excitement of getting back to some semblance of normality.
Over the last couple of years, we have been embracing the green spaces around us more than ever as an escape and respite from sitting in our homes during lockdowns and restrictions. We have been on a journey of appreciating the joy that nature brings us, and perhaps not too soon, as the climate emergency seems to be on every news cycle these days. Paying attention to our natural environment is key to our future, our success and our mental health.
We have learned to find solace in the natural settings around us, whether from rolling hills, local parks, or captivating coastlines. Nature gives us the opportunity to escape the familiar. It provides us with feelings of calm, peace, health and even happiness. But what is it about nature that causes our mood to lift and changes how we feel?
A natural mood booster
You have probably heard that we need vitamin D and if, like me, you spent your childhood in sunny climes the dark winters can leave you feeling rather low, and out of sorts. Some people even suffer with a condition called SAD (seasonal affective disorder). When we venture outdoors the cholesterol in our skin cells is exposed to ultraviolet light. This provides us with energy to produce Vitamin D in our bodies. Vitamin D is vital for absorbing minerals from our food like calcium and phosphate to keep our teeth, bones and muscles healthy. Good levels of Vit D boosts weight loss, fights disease and reduces depression.
Getting outdoors also means we are moving more, whether on a hilly hike or a slow wander in the woods as the dog explores every tree. Getting moving is good for our bodies, keeping us fit, controlling our weight, improving our moods and strengthening our muscles. There’s more… did you know in Japan they have a practice called “forest bathing” where woodland walks are growing in popularity and the benefits are amazing? Immersing yourself in the atmosphere of a forest or woodland and noticing the smells, sights and sounds brings our attention into the present. This aids in building our focus skills and reducing our stress levels by freeing our thinking minds from worrying or ruminating for a period of time.
Nature is good for work performance too! Yes, that’s right
If you have been a little frustrated on Zoom calls recently, then popping off those headphones and heading outside might just be what you need. If you are feeling stuck, or maybe needing to make a decision, then the remedy you seek may be outdoors. Research shows that nature can help us overcome creative blocks and inspire new ways of thinking. While out and about the mind is free to admire at the world around us, instead of focussing on the usual time pressures of a busy day-to-day life. People have been reporting feelings of awe when admiring beautiful views and sunsets. These are expansive and uplifting feelings, and they allow us to break free from the pressure and maybe look at problems with a new perspective.
Getting ‘green’ into the routine!
As the world starts to settle into the ‘new normal’, we are constantly looking for ways to find predictability and stability. However, over the last couple of years, we have been learning to navigate life with ambiguity and uncertainty. While some people may thrive in these environments ,for the majority of us it can create anxiety. Getting outdoors into nature also plays a role in reducing levels of anxiety and symptoms of depression. Putting ‘green’ into your routine can provide you with a boost in self-esteem and confidence levels. The natural light in the summer months can lift your moods, encourage you to get outdoors and brighten the days. In addition, for those struggling with mental health, it does so much more than that…
Research is mounting that tells us spending time in green spaces is associated with good mental health. It even suggests that people can gain a deeper sense of meaning and see a reduction in negative emotions by getting more nature into their day.
It is not just about the trees and water; it’s also about wiring our brains for social interaction. While some of us may be raring to go out, meet up with friends and family, host parties and get back into the swing of a full social life, some of us may find this a little more exhausting and challenging than we expect. As my mum always said, preparation is nine-tenths of success. A positive secondary benefit of getting out of the house, is that it encourages social interaction in a more managed way. A walk with a friend, a chat with a friendly stranger along the way or a cheerful dog that brings a smile to your face, even momentarily, are all experiences that help us to develop healthy connections and influences our mental wellbeing. So, next time you are out and about, smile at a stranger, strike up a conversation and notice how you feel afterwards.
As the UK heads into the wonderful summer month of August, now is a great time to build a lifestyle of staying outdoors to help keep your body and mind healthy. Getting into a good routine will help support you, when the leaves start to fall and autumn arrives, to stay active and outdoors during the winter months.
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Park, B.J., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T. et al. The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environ Health Prev Med 15, 18 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9
Laura M. Huiberts, Karin C.H.J. Smolders, Effects of vitamin D on mood and sleep in the healthy population: Interpretations from the serotonergic pathway, Sleep Medicine Reviews, Volume 55, 2021, 101379, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2020.101379
Trine Plambech, Cecil C. Konijnendijk van den Bosch, The impact of nature on creativity – A study among Danish creative professionals, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, Volume 14, Issue 2, 2015, Pages 255-263, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2015.02.006