This blog is part of a series. Catch up on part one if you missed it.
Being in nature has many benefits to our mental health and in this month’s blog, inspired by Decorative Aggregates and their infographic about how gardening can benefit our mental wellbeing, we are going to be focusing on the stress relief benefits it can bring.
There have been many scientific studies showing that spending time outdoors in a natural space, whether that’s a garden, a park or local woodland has a hugely positive effect on our mental wellbeing. As little as 10 or 15 minutes will reap benefits from being outdoors.
The science behind this is really interesting. Being in nature helps to reduce cortisol levels – cortisol is also known as your ‘fight or flight’ hormone and it helps your body deal with stressful situations. However, if we are in a stressed state for too long our cortisol levels remain high and can then have negative impacts on us. These impacts can be on our mood, making us more anxious, tired and feeling low on energy. A review of 24 studies confirms that simply looking at natural landscapes, like a forest, reduces cortisol by 13.4%, while going for a walk in nature decreases it by 15.8%.
In Japan harnessing the benefits of nature has been taken further to form a whole therapeutic practice called ‘forest bathing’. Despite the name, this doesn’t involve getting your swimming costume on! It simply refers to being calm and quiet in nature and observing what’s going on whilst also being aware of your breathing and your senses. This practice can be done from your own garden or any local green space, the main aim is to really slow down and focus on the natural area you are in. In your garden this could mean taking the time to notice when buds are opening into flowers or sitting still and watching birds digging for worms. If you don’t have access to a garden or you are feeling particularly inspired to do some of your own forest bathing in an actual forest then the woodland trust has a handy website where you can find your nearest woodlands to go and explore.
Another way that being in your garden or in nature helps us to reduce stress is that it encourages us to have time away from technological devices like our phones, TV’s and computers. Multi-tasking, particularly with electronic devices, is a leading cause of stress as it tires the brain out and causes it to struggle to focus on any one thing fully.
Gardening is a great way to focus your attention on one specific thing at a time. Any activity in the garden can be turned into a mindful
ness exercise by focusing your whole attention on that one task.
Being in a garden, a park, or woodland encourages us to take a break to recharge. Knowing that even just 10 minutes outdoors can be beneficial to you and your mental wellbeing why not take some time out of your day to go for a walk without your phone or take a pause from staring at a screen to go and have a cup of tea sitting in the garden. Spend time listening to the birds rather than the ‘ding’ and ‘buzz’ of notifications, or watching a sunset rather than watching TV or being mindful of your surroundings rather than scrolling mindlessly on your phone. You might be surprised how much you notice when the rest of the world stops for a minute!
This piece was written by Freya Lovett who supports our Bearing Fruit group. If you are interested in joining our Ecotherapy programme you’d be very welcome.