Winter is officially here and as the dark, wet, chilly nights draw in the temptation to come home, put on your pyjamas and sit in front of the telly can be hard to overcome. But the dark nights, lack of sunshine and lack of activity can be detrimental to our health and wellbeing. Here are 5 ways nature can help you beat the winter blues.
1. Get outside!
Research has shown that spending just 2 hours a week outside is good for our physical and mental health. Time outdoors in nature lowers a person’s stress levels, decreases blood pressure, reduces the risk of asthma, allergies, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, whilst also boosting mental health and increasing life expectancy.
It doesn’t matter if this is done in small bite sized chunks on a daily basis or in one go at the weekend, it all counts towards a benefit in mood and physical health. What’s important is finding a way that fits in with your lifestyle and is easy to do. Paying attention to nature as you go about your daily life will help as it all adds up to shifting your attention to the wider world around you, connecting you to moments of calm and beauty. Be adventurous and explore what is on your doorstep and don’t forget to take notice along the way.
2. Tune in.
If you really can’t manage to get outside then just listening to the sounds of nature can also have a positive effect on your mind. When we are depressed or anxious our brains tend to be overactive in ruminating (or going round in circles) on negative events or thoughts. By listening to the sounds of nature researchers found that brain scans showed a more outward focus of attention, similar to that in daydreaming and levels of anxiety and depression were reduced. Instead of switching on the TV after dinner, why not try 10 minutes of quiet relaxation listening to summer birdsong or trickling forest streams on You Tube?
3. Hug a tree!
Forest bathing has been popular in Japan for a long time now and the trend is spreading over here. Shinrin Yoku which literally translates as ‘forest bath’ is more than just a walk through the woods though. It involves a mindful walk surrounded by trees where you use all of your five senses to connect with your environment. Research has shown a number of health benefits including; lowered cortisol (stress hormone), a reduction in blood pressure and blood sugar and decreased levels of anxiety and depression. Plant chemicals given off by the trees also help to boost your immunity and the relaxing effect will help to improve your sleep. Drs have been so convinced by it that some are now recommending forest bathing as part of their social prescriptions. Go with a guide to get the most out of the experience.
Amy Adams runs forest bathing sessions in South London. She says that her clients are rewarded with a feeling of peace and calm and that the impact on their sense of wellbeing helps them deal with stress long after the session is over. She uniquely blends her sessions with photography to create a visual anchor so that her clients can tap into this feeling again at any time they need in the future.
4. Go for a walk with a friend.
Instead of going shopping, eating out or going for a drink why not suggest going for a walk. Research has shown that exposure to nature ranks more as a more pleasurable experience than shopping and creates memories associated with positive emotions.
Not only will you be saving money but you will be getting some exercise and building a stronger connection with your friend. Sharing experiences like this will create lasting memories and if there are obstacles to overcome along the way such as getting lost or a sudden downpour you will feel a deeper sense of connection as you work together to overcome the challenge. Share a gratitude for nature as you walk and observe three good things along the way.
5. Feed the birds.
Studies have shown that feeding birds is not only good for the birds but it is good for you too! One study demonstrated that those who fed birds felt more relaxed and more connected to nature. This connection has been positively associated with feelings of well-being and reduced anxiety. Another study suggested that seeing birds and hearing birdsong helped prevent mental fatigue and increased levels of our happy hormones, making us less likely to feel depressed. So, even if you can’t feed the birds, take some time to find a space where you can take a moment to hear birdsong and notice the different and beautiful noises they make.
Knowing that you are helping to look after our natural wildlife, at a time when habitats are threatened by the ever increasing urbanisation of green spaces, also gives you a little glow of satisfaction.
To find out more about how to start and what to feed them see the RSPB website.
I hope this has given you some inspiration to get outside and enjoy all the colours, sensations and beauty that nature has to offer this autumn and winter. Wrap up warm, take a waterproof, grab a friend and have an adventure!
#wellbeing #takenotice #winter