Research commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation has found that 62 per cent of UK adults found relief from the stress of COVID-19 by taking a walk.
Nearly half the respondents also felt that spending time in green spaces has helped them cope with rising pandemic-related anxiety. Even if the distance travelled wasn’t particularly far and little walking was involved, getting outside has had a positive impact on people’s mental wellbeing.
Although science is yet to discover exactly why nature is so therapeutic, the research supports the findings of numerous previous studies which show a link between access to green space and a reduced risk of mental health problems.
In light of the study, the Mental Health Foundation has teamed up with WWF to launch a mental health guidebook. The guide, titled ‘Thriving With Nature’, explores this relationship between the natural world and our mental wellbeing.
The guide looks at how nature can support positive mental-wellbeing, but also considers how we can help nature in return. “The benefits are often related to how our senses connect us to the environment,” it says, “from the shapes in nature we see to the scents that trees give off and the soft fascination that nature can stimulate which helps our minds rest.”
It doesn’t have to be a hike through the wilderness, the two organisations are encouraging people to find rest and relief in the green spaces available to them.
“For those of you thinking ‘I don’t have time to get to the mountains or big rugged landscapes’, a stroll in a city park, by a canal or around your local woodland can be just as reviving,” says UK TV presenter, Julia Bradbury in the foreword to the guide.
“And if you work in a dense urban jungle it’s still worth while heading outside into the light; a single tree can inspire as much joy as a ‘Big View’.”
How nature can help
Thriving With Nature has seasonal suggestions for activities like growing your own food and taking ‘green exercise’ by cycling or walking in a green space local to you. Alongside practical recommendations it also has grounding techniques which help with stress and anxiety by encouraging you to pay attention to what you can see, hear, feel, taste and smell.
“The partnership with WWF-UK made perfect sense for us,” says Dr Antonis Kousoulis, Director for England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation. “As contact with nature is so important for our wellbeing, we need to make it possible when planning housing and public spaces, for everyone to spend time in a park, garden, lakeside of other ‘green’ or ‘blue’ space.”
“Through our partnership with WWF-UK, we also want to raise awareness of what environmental damage and destruction can mean for our mental health,” he adds. “We need to get serious about cherishing the natural world and acknowledge that human thriving depends on it.”
You can download Thriving With Nature for free on the Mental Health Foundation website here.