St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

Green spaces, gardening & wellbeing: Living in the moment

Mental Health Gardening

This blog is part of a series based on the infographic by Decorative Aggregates. Catch up on part one, two. and three here. In this month’s article we are going to be looking at how focusing on the present moment can help to alleviate stress and anxiety caused by worrying or thinking about the past or future.

It’s interesting that people describe living in the moment as being mindful, rather than mindless, it’s not so much about switching off, but so that our mind is full of what’s going on around us. There are lots of ways we can help to do this but using our senses is often one of the quickest and easiest ways, as they really encourage us to engage with the environment we are in whilst helping to ground us in the present moment. To do this, start by finding somewhere to sit, either in your garden or a local green space where you feel comfortable. Take a few slow, deep breathes to help signal to your body that it can relax. This can just be a few breathes or you can take this further and do a full breathing exercise. Focusing on your breathing is something that is especially nice to do when you are out in nature because you can think that with every breath in you are grateful to the plants for giving out oxygen and then in return, when you breathe out you give them back carbon dioxide so the cycle can continue!

A lot of people find breathing exercises, or meditation, helpful to stay focused on the present moment. There are many tutorials online or on Youtube so have a look to see what works best for you. It can take a bit of practice and it is hard to completely shut all the stray thoughts out, but it can be a way to help you be aware of them and help remind you to bring your attention back to what is in your surroundings.

This is where you can use all your senses to help you. You can look at the way the trees are swaying in the wind or the shapes of the clouds in the sky or you can focus close by on the detail of leaves and flowers. Or perhaps you can try and spot some insects like beetles or butterflies and take the time to watch what they are doing. Spend time looking at the different shapes, patterns and colours of the plants and then you could also use your sense of touch to see how these feel different. Some leaves are shiny, others are prickly (be careful not to stroke a nettle!), and some are furry. You could feel the smoothness of a pebble or the roughness of the bark on a tree.

You could also smell the different things in your surrounding area. Flowers are an obvious one and maybe you have herbs in your garden too that you can rub between your fingers to get the aroma from them. You could also try to notice any smells in the air and if you can work out what they are.

If you feel comfortable it can also be really nice to close your eyes to focus on the sounds around you (this can also be done with your eyes open too!). Can you hear the sound of the wind or birds singing? Are the sounds that you’re hearing man made or natural and can you tell what direction they are in?

It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to do this and you don’t have to do all of the mindfulness practices perfectly and become a meditation master to get the benefits. You could do this just for ten seconds when you’re tying your shoelaces or for half an hour when you’re taking a break from whatever you are doing.  All you have to do is keep bringing your mind back to the present moment when it wanders off and use your senses to take notice of what is in your surroundings, wherever you may be.

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.


20 August 2020 | Categories: Ecotherapy, Opinion Piece | Tags: appreciation, control, decorative aggregates, ecotherapy, grow your own, lack of control, meditation, mental health, messy, mindfullness, peace, plants, quiet, tidy, wellbeing, windowsill