Connect with Nature
This new group was borne from the 2021 Mental Health Foundation theme for its Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW). Its purpose is to enhance our members' mental health and wellbeing by taking time to appreciate connections with nature. It is available to members who have progressed to the Mindset Group.
Nature was chosen for MHAW because being in nature is known to be an effective way of tackling mental health problems and of protecting our wellbeing. Nature is something that is all around us and can be really helpful in supporting good mental health.
The group meets every Monday to do simple activities to connect with nature, this can be anything from visiting a park, growing a plant, listening to birdsong, reading about nature, or walking round our local community and taking notice of the natural environment - the trees, flowers or animals nearby.
For more info or to join our group email Jo
During each weekly activity members are encouraged to do three things:
Mental Health and Wellbeing
During the pandemic many of us reconnected with nature. Spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental health and physical wellbeing.
If you would like to find out more about how nature can improve your mental health we have provided two downloads: 'Nature and Mental Health' is a booklet from mental health organisation Mind, and 'Thriving with Nature' is a guidebook produced by the Mental Health Foundation and WWF-UK.
Mindfulness and Relaxation
Nature-based mindfulness is a term used to describe activities that connect the natural environment with mindfulness or other contemplative techniques. It connects us immediately with the natural world, and allows us to simply appreciate its beauty. The beauty of nature inspires awe, which we know from the research boosts happiness, generosity, even compassion and connection, and so can enhance our wellbeing. It also connects us with the natural rhythms of the world, allowing us to step out of clock time and into 'earth time'.
How to Mindfully Appreciate Nature
Slow your steps. Take your pace down a notch. Think saunter or strolling for pleasure, not getting to a destination in a hurry. Slow down and enjoy.
Savour through your senses. Tune in using your whole body: the warm air on your face, the sound of birds, the fragrances of flowers and earthy smell of soil, the texture of leaves. Feel each sensation.
Think small. A photographer for National Geographic once spent time lying on his stomach in the desert, photographing flowers he called “pinhead flowers,” blooms that were the size of a pencil dot. When he enlarged the photographs, they were stunning.
Notice tiny details. Author Jane Anne Staw wrote Small after she had an epiphany about concentrating too much on the big picture and missing the small one. One day she noticed a single dried leaf on the sidewalk, and focused all her attention on that leaf. “Suddenly I felt awareness course through me…my whole body hummed with pleasure….”
Change your point of view. Poet Mary Oliver said that she could walk the same path every day and always see something new. Vary your gaze: Look up, look down, sweep your eyes from left to right. And use more than just your vision. Listen to the crunch of your feet as you walk.
Go lightly. When you are out in nature, nothing is required but your presence. Put away your need to do anything and completely mute your cell phone. Unlike electronics, plants don’t demand us to click on anything; they signal subtly, so look for their clues.
Stay awhile. Biologist David Haskell spent a year observing one square meter of earth in order to write The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature. Pick your spot, get comfortable, and resist the urge to move on. The garden will reward you and so will the rest of life.
Practice 1: Walk and Notice
Take a walk and notice the beauty you see. Take the time to really look at your favourite tree, explore a park, and notice something new, a practice that will spark creativity.
Gaze at the shapes that nature has created, as well as spaces between them, reflecting on what the Japanese call “ma,” the “negative space” between forms that is just as important as the objects themselves.
And as you walk, notice what has changed and is changing as you pass the same spot. And don’t just walk, take some time to sit. And as you sit, consider stepping out of clock time and connecting with nature’s time and rhythms.
Practice 2: Sit and Notice
Open your window, feel the fresh air, sit and listen to the sounds of nature.
Sit until the fog burns off…
Sit until the sun completely sets…
Sit until the rain ends… or begins….
Watch an animal, even an insect at work or play until it departs…
Sit until the puddle dries in the sun…
Sit and watch a shadow until it has crossed your path…
Sit until the birds finish their song…
If you can, sit beneath a tree until it lets go of a leaf and you see (or even hear) it fall to the ground.
If you can, sit at a lake and watch the surface until the wind shifts or stops…
Or simply sit until that cloud completely changes shape, and disappears or passes on the horizon….
An introduction to Mindfulness with Martin Stepek.
A mindful walk with Martin Stepek.
Find your Sit Spot
"Sit Spot is a simple but powerful practice from Forest Bathing that encourages you to become more mindful; to connect with nature; to cultivate a deeper awareness of yourself and others; and most importantly to cultivate a deeper understanding of the relationship that you have with the natural world.
Ideally, you will be able to find a place in nature where you can sit comfortably for about 20 – 30 minutes and just ‘be’, immersing yourself in the world around you, engaging with it through all your senses and reconnecting with the rhythms of the natural world." Sit Spot and Nature Connection Practice – Darach Social Croft 2021
Download Darach Social Croft's full "Sit Spot and Nature Connection Practice Guide" - it contains more information about finding your 'Sit Spot' and twenty-eight suggested ‘Sit Spot Invitations’ - activities to encourage you to consciously engage with the natural environment around you, designed to heighten your sensory awareness and increase your nature connection. There are also twenty-eight journal pages for you to reflect on your experiences and record your thoughts.
Forest Bathing is a health-promoting, nature-connection practice that aims to relieve stress and boost overall wellbeing.
It doesn't involve actual bathing, it's a nature-immersive experience that is shown to
reduce stress, anxiety, & depression, and improve wellbeing*
increase the body's immune response**
improve concentration and short-term memory, and reduce symptoms of ADHD***
In 1982, Japan launched a national program to encourage forest bathing, and in 2004, a formal study of the link between forests and human health began in Iiyama, Japan—a place particularly known for its lush, green forests. Now, each year upwards of 2.5 million people walk those forest trails as a way to ease stress and enhance health.
Below are some Forest Bathing invitations from A Small Book of Forest Bathing Invitations by Hugh Asher of the Daroch Social Croft, to encourage you to connect with the natural world through your different senses - these are activities designed to heighten your sensory awareness and increase your nature connection.
Other Outdoor Activities
Here are some more ideas to enjoy nature outdoors:
▶ Walking, Parks & Gardens
▶ Exercising Outside & Cycling
▶ Wildlife spotting & Birdwatching
Springtime Dawn Chorus
Help our feathered friends. Birds are busy building the perfect homes for their chicks or they are already busy feeding them. Avoid pruning bushes containing nests, and leaving some nest-building debris lying around - if you have space introduce some bird feeders and a bird bath into your garden.
Nature needs us. Fight climate change by doing your bit. Help conserve our peatlands - Scotland’s most vital carbon store - by using only peat-free products in your garden. Help alleviate flooding in your local area by reducing the paving in your garden.
Feed the bees. Avoid cutting your grass throughout May (#NoMowMay), after the dandelions have flowered but before they set seed, as they're an important food source for all types of pollinators. Avoid pruning any spring-flowering trees or shrubs and enjoy more nature in your garden.
Plant for pollinators. Spring can be tricky for pollinators as they emerge from hibernation. Aim to have pollinator-friendly plants flowering in your garden in Spring. The beauty of emerging flowers is a classic sign that winter is finally over, providing a welcome boost to the spirits. Whether it’s snowdrops, bluebells or primroses, the impact is the same - spring has sprung and summer is on the way. Planting for Pollinators Leaflet
Provide a pond. Frogs, toads and newts all wake-up from hibernation in the spring to search for homes and mates, and all can thrive in garden ponds. As well as frogs and toads a pond can attract newts, dragonflies and much more. If a pond isn't possible, even using an old washing up bowl of water or a deep saucer of water on a windowsill can help.
Feed local wildlife. Keep feeders regularly topped up and remember to provide water too. To attract a range of garden birds try putting out seed mixes, sunflower hearts, meal worms, soft apples and pears, and even mild grated cheese. Avoid bread, peanuts and fat at this time as these can be a choking hazard and harmful if adult birds feed them to their young.
Cultivating Wellbeing in Gardens and Nature is a free-to-access online resource to encourage you to use your garden to spend more time connecting with nature as a tool to restore wellbeing and improve your physical and mental health.
Take photos when you're out connecting with nature, and take some snaps of your favourite nature spots. If you use social media share your photos and use the hashtags #ConnectWithNature
Bring Nature Indoors
Here are a few suggestions of how you can bring nature indoors:
▶ Flower arranging indoors.
▶ Write a poem or read a book about nature. Draw or paint your favourite nature scenes. Build a nature jigsaw.
▶ Create a collage from magazines or photos. Download your favourite photo to your mobile phone or ipad desktop.
▶ Open a window and listen to nature sounds. For example birdsongs, ocean waves or rainfall.
▶ Arrange a comfortable place to sit and look outside from your window.
▶ Watch a nature programme on TV or listen on the radio.