It has long been known that nature can help with mental wellbeing, and now more than ever this is something we all need. Director of Studio 31 Katie Flaxman talks through some ways we can enjoy nature in isolation, whilst still following government guidance and distancing ourselves from others as much as possible.
How we can use nature to support our health and wellbeing at such a challenging time?
Those who follow Studio 31 will know that our absolute passion is for all things health and my background being in mental health has compelled me to put out a blog at this time
At all usual times of struggle, here at Studio 31, it is our normal practice to turn to nature for the answers. We turn to nature for support, guidance and for health and we use research led design for health within our work and promote the intrinsic link between health and nature. Nature has restorative, health promoting and therapeutic powers. It is holistic, promotes active lifestyles and is linked with a whole range of positive health outcomes both physical and mental. What then happens if we (rightly) are asked to stay at home? What if we are unable to connect with this vital resource because we are (rightly) afraid our health may be more greatly compromised, or we may put at risk those more vulnerable than ourselves? Then, as with all things, we need to adapt. Nature still holds many of the answers and all of the same benefits, we just need to think differently and more creatively about how we engage with its healing powers.
First, we must, without doubt follow the government guidance. We must do as medical professionals are asking and stay at home. We must distance ourselves from others especially those who are vulnerable, and we must not put others at risk.
But second, we must look after our own health, both mental and physical. I do not know a single person whose mood or mental health has not been impacted by the current situation for reasons many and varied. Nature is only one of the answers but it’s one that we know best. We know that when people are separate from nature their health outcomes are poorer. We know that they are likely to lead more sedentary lifestyles and that those are linked with poor health outcomes too. We also know that poverty is linked with poor health outcomes and the current economic climate is likely to be affecting people’s health on many fronts.
Living in a hope filled world as I do, I am nothing short of inspired by the creative ideas across social media people are using to connect and support neighbours, family, friends and strangers at this time and I wanted to add our nature related thoughts to how you can look after your health at what is a very strange and challenging time.
It is our hope that some of the ideas below will inspire people to engage more fully with nature during this period and reap the powerful benefits of this connection.
1. If you are fortunate enough have a garden, use it. Be it balcony, square of lawn or large estate. Plant it, do yoga in it, read in it, work in it, walk circles around it, plunge your fingers into the soil, weed the beds, mow the lawn, kick a football, make a treasure hunt through the plants with your kids. Wrap yourself in coat and hat and do the things you would normally do inside, outside- eat, sing, dance, play.
3. Sit by the window. There is research which links positive health outcomes with simply viewing onto nature. This applies to health centres, places of work, everywhere. If you can see nature, it is better for you. Move your chairs and tables, pile up cushions to create a makeshift window seat. Sit with your kids on the windowsill and count birds passing outside. Connect your inside with the outside in whatever way you can.
4. Get outside. If it’s safe to do so, if you can socially distance yourself from others. If you can be alone, get outside. Stay a safe distance from others but try to engage with nature in whatever way you can. When you need to get food, walk there. Walk past that big old oak tree or that familiar street tree. If you’re queuing outside a supermarket; look up at the sky not down at your phone, watch the clouds passing for a moment, feel the sun on your face. Stay home yes but if you need to go out (for food, medicines, exercise), then be out, engage with even the smallest glimpses of nature on your journeys.
7. Do nature-based activities. There are many online resources from guided nature meditations to nature documentaries to nature-based tutorials. Read nature books, paint nature pictures. Forage for stinging nettles and make nettle soup. For the small (or grown up) people in your life, leave your outside light on then get up early and see what moth visitors you have. Collect sticks, feathers, herbs and leaves and make some nature paint brushes. Press leaves in books, get some binoculars and spot birds and other wildlife from your windows. Watch the nature cams linked from places like Essex Wildlife Trust, watch Chris Packham’s daily nature talks. Talk it, live it, feel it.
2. If you do not have a garden; plant. Plant pots of strawberries and put them outside your front door, plant houseplants and scatter them around your flat, plant vegetables in trays, hang window boxes, plant herbs and cover your window sills, plant cress heads in eggshells, runner beans in loo rolls. Plant, grow, plant.
5. Exercise, outdoors if possible – There are a wealth of online exercise videos and classes being run for free. Yoga is great for body and mind and doesn’t take up much space. Exercise has huge health benefits and exercise in nature even more so, so if you can do it in your garden or by an open window so much the better.
6. Open the windows. Believe it or not, most of the pollutants we inhale, we will inhale indoors. This is because, as a rule, our homes are poorly ventilated, and we spend most of our time in them. Let fresh air in when you can, as often as you can. Be mindful too that we are still in colder times of year so be sensible to protect those who are vulnerable or unwell. Keep them warm and safe but let air into your home as much as you can.
A couple of weekends ago, before the restrictions and school closures came into full force, I travelled as I often do, to Hatfield Forest. I was surprised to see both car parks full and a queue to get in. I think we intrinsically know nature is a safe space, nature is good for us. So, we had retreated there where we could be together but apart, where we could be safe and still, where the kids could run free and we could breathe. It was heartening to see people there, to see them retreat to nature at a time like this. Things have changed a little since then and it isn’t the right message to send you into the wild but there are things you can do to engage with nature.
Many of us are isolated at home away from our usual routines and the people we love. Many others are working long hours and shifts in the service of others. All of us need nature more than ever. All our routines are changing from children to adults so why not take a moment to make sure nature and health safely remain a part of yours. We would love to hear how you are doing this so we can share these ideas with others too.
Sending love and nature connection into this invisible ether.
You can read this blog and many others on Studio 31’s journal here.