Mental Health Awareness Week: Connect With Nature

The Grow Wild team share their five top tips for connecting with nature, and how they have helped their mental wellbeing throughout the pandemic.

1. Look beyond what’s in front of you

Ellen, Grow Wild’s Communications Executive, says: “I’ve found that being in the same place for most of the year can make me feel quite cabin-feverish. To combat this, I’ve tried to go on regular walks in my local area to get fresh air and sunshine, which are already great for boosting your wellbeing, but rather than walking on auto-pilot, I’ve tried to challenge myself to look beyond what’s immediately in front of me. I might look for hidden plants and fungi growing around the trees in my local park, or find a new route that takes me away from the hustle and bustle of the main streets and onto quiet back roads, where I pay attention to what’s growing in people’s front gardens. I also really enjoy seeing and identifying the wildflowers growing in the pavement cracks, or spotting a hidden carpet of Sweet Violets hidden in the undergrowth.” Paying attention to the simple beauty of nature can have a profound effect on our wellbeing, so have a look next time you go for a walk, and see what you find. You could take a notebook or use an app to record or identify your findings.

2. Follow your nose…

Alison, Grow Wild’s Programme Manager, shares: “I’ve really been enjoying the spring scents on the air lately. Whenever I detect a lovely aroma floating on the breeze, I follow my nose and try to locate the plant that it came from! If I know the plant is safe to touch, and I have permission to, I’ll often rub a leaf or flower to release the volatile essential oils which give aromatic plants their scent. Recently, I’ve really been enjoying the aromas of wild plants like Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum), and Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) in the woods near my house, and also the Mint (Mentha piperita) that grows in my garden.” Senses play a huge part in our wellbeing, and our sense of smell, in particular, provides a direct link to the part of our brain (the amygdala) associated with emotions and memory. Ever smelled something and immediately been transported back to a particular memory or time of your life? That’s the Olfactory bulb and amygdala connection at work! Sensory gardens, as well as disciplines such as Aromatherapy, make use of this connection between our sense of smell and emotions for their therapeutic objectives.

“The process of journaling really made me begin to appreciate all the different shapes and textures”
Grow wild poppies and cornflowers
3. Get to know the ‘locals’

Phoebe, one of Grow Wild’s Engagement Assistants, says: “I’ve been making more of an effort to notice and learn the names of the plants growing in my local hedgerows. It makes me pay more attention to my natural surroundings and generally be more outward-looking! At the moment, there are lots of primroses (Primula vulgaris) and Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum), but I’ve also found some lesser-known plants which I’ve since learnt are the poisonous Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis and Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa) – both species are indicators of ancient woodland! I’ve also seen Bugle (Ajuga reptans), a creeping plant that uses its runners to spread all over damp grassy areas and clearings in woodland.” Learning something new can be a satisfying and rewarding experience; there’s a reason why ‘Keep Learning’ is one of the spokes on the Wheel of Wellbeing! Why not try out your wild plant identification skills with our What’s that Wildflower Wildflower ID template and factsheets, or visit our Wildflower Gallery to help you develop your skills.

4. Study the changing seasons

Isha, Grow Wild’s Engagement & Training Assistant shares her top tip: “I started an art nature journal in January to try and record the seasons changing, something that I had never had time to do before Covid-19! The process of journaling really made me begin to appreciate all the different shapes and textures of moss, as well as trying to identify the different trees I saw on my walks, just from their silhouettes! The whole project has been a lovely distraction from the challenges of the wider world, and also presented a very good reason to force myself to go outside for some fresh air during January, which typically is my least favourite month, let alone with lockdown…!” Journalling has become extremely popular as a mindfulness tool in recent years, with good reason; it has been shown by studies to provide us with a whole heap of wellbeing benefits, from better sleep to improved emotional processing. If you’d like to read more on journaling, this New York Times article has lots to say on the subject, and also links to some interesting studies.

5. Stare at the stars

Chloe, Grow Wild Training & Engagement Officer, says: “If I’m feeling stressed out by day-to-day worries or juggling lots of demands on my time, I find a really effective way to get some perspective is to look up at the stars. Looking out into the vastness of the universe, wondering what lies beyond and how things came to be always makes me feel very small. This often puts my worries into perspective and brings into focus the things in my life that really matter.” We think this tip is a brilliant one. If you live in a city, why not wrap up warm one evening, climb a hill or visit a spot with a view, and admire the twinkling city lights from afar? We’ve found that this can have a similar effect. After all, humans and cities are part of nature, too! Don’t forget to let friends and family know where you are going if walking alone at night, and take sensible precautions. Even better, bring someone along with you.

…And finally, get growing!

Whether you’re growing plants in a great big garden or sowing in a simple window box, the health benefits of getting green-fingered are well documented. One thing that’s really helped keep the whole Grow Wild team’s momentum and motivation going throughout lockdown has been sharing the fruits (and failures!) of our gardening efforts throughout the past year. We’ve connected (and commiserated) over our shared wildflower woes and vegetable victories, and whilst we haven’t worked together in person for what seems like forever, having a common thread and interest to connect us all has been a real lifeline. Connection with others is key to our wellbeing, and a shared interest makes it all the more fun to reach out, even if it’s only digitally, and connect with others who share our passion. At Grow Wild, we have plenty of online resources to help you start growing, whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a complete newbie. You can also connect with our community! Join our Facebook groups for Fungus and Wildflower growers, or come and say hi on Twitter or Instagram.

If you’d like to read more about this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, take a look at the Mental Health Foundation’s website. They have resources, videos and more information about the links between nature and our mental health.

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