With lockdown restrictions easing and longer hours of daylight, it feels even more welcoming and exciting to get outside and into nature. We all know that getting some fresh air, taking some exercise outside and connecting to nature is good for our physical and mental health and wellbeing. Science and research backs this up with proven evidence.
This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme is ‘Nature’ which feels fitting after a year of zoom calls, teaching and tutoring online, increased screen time and restrictions on socialising, going out and connecting with other people.
Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, explains why this year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Nature’. He quotes:
“During long months of the pandemic, millions of us turned to nature. Our research on the mental health impacts of the pandemic showed going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies and 45% of us reported being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health. Websites which showed footage from webcams of wildlife saw hits increase by over 2000%. Wider studies also found that during lockdowns, people not only spent more time in nature but were noticing it more. It was as if we were re-discovering at our most fragile point our fundamental human need to connect with nature.” 1
Nature helps us learn & build resilience
Connecting to and being in nature is not only good for our mental health and wellbeing , it is also an amazing learning environment for children and adults, opening our minds to a sense of wonder. This is so important for children and their development.
Research suggests that it can:
- Improve concentration
- Build resilience and confidence
- Encourage creativity & imagination
- Provide stimulation from a different source ( other than screens)
- Get them moving!
- Helps them develop a sense of wonder and curiosity
- Teach them responsibility ( about how to care for living organisms & creatures)
- Help reduce stress and fatigue (2)
In 2019, The Wildlife Trust commissioned researchers at the Institute of Education at UCL to conduct one of the largest ever studies to look into the effects of regular outdoor activities on children’s wellbeing.
“Overall, the results found that children’s wellbeing dramatically increased after they had spent time outdoors. Not only did they gain additional social benefits, but they showed high levels of enjoyment, too.”
The increased wellbeing and additional social benefits included:
- 90% of children felt they learned something new about the natural world
- 79% felt that their experience could help their school work
- 81% agreed they had better relationships with their teachers
- 79% reported stronger bonds with other children in their class
- After the activities, 84% of children felt that they were capable of doing new things when they tried (3)
How has nature and being outside helped your child’s confidence and learning? Take a moment to reflect on this. Perhaps you could think of some new ways to get your child into nature more – it could be as simple as making an insect or worm hotel, or making some bird feed & looking up garden birds or taking a family walk together and journaling what you saw, heard, felt along the way.
Here are some great ideas from childmind.org:
The Wildlife Trust shared this great article during lockdown last year, with lots of activities which are perfect for all the family to get involved into the great outdoors:
Nature reduces stress and fatigue
Science and research shows that connecting to and spending in time nature really does help improve psychological and physiological health.
A recent study in 2019 by Frontiers in Psychology found that just spending 20 minutes connecting to nature can help lower stress hormone levels.
According to ecotherapy, a growing scientific field backed by research, “It appears that interacting with natural spaces offers other therapeutic benefits. For instance, calming nature sounds and even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body’s fight-or-flight response.”
Furthermore, research shows that “the visual aspects of nature can also have a soothing effect. Having something pleasant to focus on like trees and greenery helps distract your mind from negative thinking, so your thoughts become less filled with worry.” (4)
So if you can’t make it outside, even visual images and audible sounds of nature can still make the same impact on your brain and help ease feelings of worry or anxiety.
And as Mark Rowland continues to discuss about Nature he quotes:
“It turns out that it is not just being in nature but how we open ourselves up and interact with nature that counts. We will show that even small contacts with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health, and preventing distress.”
What stories do you have about how nature has helped you or your child / family during this pandemic? How did it make you feel better? What did you enjoy most about nature?
One of our tutors shares:
“During the pandemic, I moved out of London to the countryside. I have been so grateful to just be in nature more, to hear the birds sing and breathe in the fresh air. I particularly enjoyed watching buzzards last May 2020, I always felt so in awe of how they soared so effortlessly up above me and with such freedom. It felt quite different to what I was experiencing during lockdown and it made me feel better to look up and be in awe of their wings. It’s been good to slow down, in some ways, and I have definitely been noticing nature more during this pandemic.”
Join in the conversation this Mental Health Awareness Week and share your stories about nature!
References & further reading: