Blog post

In challenging times, nature can lend a hand

How can nature help us deal with the unprecedented restriction that the coronavirus outbreak has placed on everyday life and its impact on our mental health? Miles Richardson, Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness at the University of Derby, offers some suggestions as to how nature can provide some comfort.

By Professor Miles Richardson - 20 March 2020

We are taking our first steps into some difficult months. A serious threat to physical health for some, combined with social restrictions for all, presents challenges for mental health. It's pleasing that the impact on mental wellbeing is being recognised and that nature can help with free access to natural spaces for example. Nature can also help even if you can't get out and about.

The benefits of being out in nature are increasingly recognised and, hopefully, that freedom to visit green spaces will continue through spring and in to summer. Recently, we've found that, rather than time and visits to nature, a close relationship matters just as much and, at times, even more for feeling good and functioning well - being resilient to the challenges life can bring. This close relationship isn't dependent on taking a trip into nature. It can be made at, or very close to, home. Here are three ways everyday nature can lend a hand.

Notice nature

Noticing and enjoying the simple things in everyday nature really does make a difference. Listening to the birds sing, watching the breeze in the trees and noticing flowers emerge can often be done close to home, in urban areas, through a window and even to some degree through TV and pictures if needed. We've found that actively noticing the good things in nature benefits mental health significantly - particularly for those people who tend to be more distant from nature. During the coming months, nature will provide much to notice and enjoy. The birds will be busy and in full song, trees will become green as the days warm and lengthen. Over this time, simply notice nature and the coming of spring and summer.

Nature helps manage moods

Nature can help manage our moods and emotions. Regulating emotions is a very important and almost constant function of human life. It helps us respond to and deal with everyday demands in an appropriate way. The ability to keep our emotions regulated is important for well-being. Through helping balance our moods, nature helps maintain positive emotions, brings greater resilience and is even linked to enhanced immune function. Let nature bring joy and calm to help manage your emotions.

Nature can help with social isolation

We know social relationships are really important for wellbeing so social distancing presents a challenge to keeping well. As social animals, we're also part of the wider natural world. Research has found that nearby nature can help us feel connected. Nature can offer socially isolated people an alternative way of feeling connected, buffering the effect of low social connectedness. So, when noticing nature, find a friend nearby, be it the local birds, a favoured tree or squirrels in the park. Perhaps take some action to encourage wildlife closer to your home: provide food for birds and wildlife or grow some bee friendly plants if you can.

Interestingly, those who notice the beauty of nature tend to demonstrate more pro-social and helping behaviours to others - another helpful benefit. Let nature lend a hand:

  1. Tune in and notice everyday nature
  2. Let nature manage your emotions
  3. Find a friend in nature

Finally, nature is important but it can't do it all. For wider information on mental health and wellbeing at this time, view guidance from Mind.

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About the author

Professor Miles Richardson smiling whilst wearing goggles on his head

Professor Miles Richardson
Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness

Professor Miles Richardson leads the Nature Connectedness Research Group.

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