I always feel most grounded and back to myself in nature. When everything is changing around us, we can gain a sense of peace, connection and perspective just by spending time outside, whether it’s in a garden, in the hills or down the road. Nature shifts with the seasons and carries on around us regardless of what is happening in the world.
Splashing in puddles and running down hills brings so much joy to us as children. As we grow up, exposed to different influences and forming our beliefs about what we need to be happy, we can get caught up in the pursuit of material things and the pursuit of “more”. Rediscovering the joy to be found in simplicity, the beauty of nature and appreciating all that we have around us can unlock a sense of true peace and happiness.
Every one of my childhood holidays was spent in the hills and valleys of Northumberland where our grandparents lived, a wild and precious corner of the Earth that will always be my favourite part of the world. Spending our days up on the hills in the bracken, building dams and making dens, we were in our element! Since then, I’ve definitely had periods of time where I’ve lost touch with nature, especially having lived in several cities. Understanding its impact has made me prioritise it recently and it’s something I’ll stay close to for the rest of my life.
Getting out for a walk is one of my favourite things to do, whether I’m in the town or the countryside. One way to make the most of time spent walking is to tune in to the environment around you. Noticing the tiny details on leaves in the hedgerows, the light shining on puddles, the birds, the rustle of leaves and absorbing it all makes a big difference to how you feel afterwards.
Studies show that connecting with nature has numerous benefits for our physical health. Spending time in forests has been shown to reduce the production of cortisol, activate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest system, instead of fight or flight) and improve sleep. One to two hours a day spent in any form of nature has been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve concentration. Research in January 2018 by King’s College London showed an improvement in wellbeing that lasted several hours after participants were exposed to trees, sky, and birdsong.
There is also evidence to suggest that time spent in nature boosts the immune system: chemicals called phytocyanides (compounds with antibacterial properties) are released by plants and trees. Two hours of exposure to phytocyanides has been shown to increase the production of natural killer cells, a type of lymphocyte (one type of white blood cell) responsible for getting rid of viral-infected cells.
The best thing about nature is that we can find it anywhere if we look. I recently had to move away from the countryside, but I either go for walks in the park or drive to the countryside and I’ve hunted down all the leafiest streets! There are also lots of ways to connect to nature beyond walking:
- Bringing grasses and wildflowers home to put in a vase is one way to instantly uplift spirits and bring colour into a room.
- Growing herbs or plants on your windowsill, or gardening if you have a garden.
- Taking a moment to look up at the sky can give us a sense of perspective.
- Lying on grass.
- Being still outside in the early morning is magical.