Nature and our Mental Health

Logo: Mental Health Foundation

By Charlie Hughes​​, Communications and Marketing Manager Wales

Path leading through some birch trees

Have you heard of forest bathing? No? It’s big in Japan!

This Japanese practice is an evidence-based process of relaxation; known in Japanese as “shinrin yoku.”

The simple method of being calm and quiet, amongst the trees, observing nature around you, has repeatedly shown its potential to improve mental health and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

We are animals, and being part of nature, taking a moment to take notice what’s around us, can really benefit our mental and physical health.

My name is Charlie, I work in communications for the Mental Health Foundation, I'm incredibly grateful for living near a small forest on the edge of Cardiff, the woodland has been an important resource for me over the last couple of years, especially during the stresses of lockdown and Covid-19.

A couple walking in a foggy London park

Not all of us live near a forest, but most have access to a park, river, stream, a shared or friend’s garden. In cities and urban areas there are often community gardens, or initiatives for local people to get involved with growing or gardening. 

“At first glance nature can appear to be lost in the urban jungle, but if you pause, and take in your surroundings, you might notice that nature can pop up in even the most unlikely places.”(Thriving with Nature, MHF, WWF 2020)

Growing herbs, vegetables on your window sill can make you feel closer to nature, you might even get some friendly visitors!

If you can, spend some time looking at a bee in the bushes, which plants do they enjoy most? What birds might you spot from your window or garden?

A view of sun breaking through clouds over a valley

In the UK, in early 2021, 1 in 5 adults (21%) experienced depression, double the number from 2019. (UK Office for National Statistics)

At the Mental Health Foundation, we focus on preventing mental health problems across the UK.

We recently produced a guide highlighting our ‘best ever’ tips for looking after your mental health.

Self care practices like exercise, diet, socialising with people we care about, are just some of the simple steps we can take to look after our mental health. Getting involved with nature, unsurprisingly, features in the guide.

Spending time in nature often involves an opportunity to combine activities that are beneficial to wellbeing:

View across a field and over a farm in the hills

Exercise can release chemicals in our brains that make us ‘feel good’, as does meeting new people or spending time with the people we care about.

Making an impact on the local area (for example, tree conversation or litter picking), not only benefits your community but can make you feel good, and part of something bigger, too.

“Across multiple studies, researchers have found a fascinating link between access to green space, such as fields, forests, parks and gardens, and a reduced risk of mental health problems, improved mood, and increased life satisfaction.” (Thriving with Nature, MHF, WWF 2020)

A ‘Countryside Job’ then, might be a good shout!

I wanted to finish this short article by mentioning a book my Mum bought me for Xmas last year, Everyday Nature, which encourages the reader to look out for nature’s beauty around them.

I’ve been recommending the book to everyone since I received it.

Logo: Mental Health Foundation - Welsh

Every day of the year, there’s something amazing happening, Everyday Nature lets you know what to look out for during particular times and seasons, which can be great motivation to walk to the forest on a cold February morning.

“I have realised that a daily dose of nature is essential for my wellbeing. Like many people, I find the descent into the dark days of winter saps my spirits and causes me to hunker down. The antidote is to notice things and take delight in them, to get as much fresh air as you can, stomp outside in the rain, go out on a freezing dark night.

We have somehow come to think of nature as something fragile that lives far away. Instead it is something huge and powerful that is all around us. If we take the time to slow down and observe, then the turning of the seasons can add great meaning to our lives.” (Andy Beer’s blog on National

In 2019 we produced a guide with the World Wildlife Federation highlighting Nature and it’s benefits on health, read the updated 2021 version of the guide here.

Our best mental health tips - backed by research here.

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Posted On: 07/11/2022

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