Connecting with Nature – By Sarah Williams

I always thought perhaps I suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) but I think to an extent it’s human nature to love the sun and the extra freedom the warmth of summer gives you. Anyone who’s sat in a beer garden in the hailstone recently will likely agree with that.

Getting outside has been more beneficial than ever over the last year because a lot of us have realised how much we need it… and take it for granted! Working from home for the past year has meant I have had periods of only ever stepping outside to do the weekly shop and that really did affect my mental health. Ridiculously, I only live down the street from one of the city’s biggest parks, yet it took me a good few months to start taking a walk there to feel better, but that’s exactly what it did.

As I grew up in a farming village, being around greenery and the countryside has always been my ‘happy place’ so the theme for this year’s mental health awareness week made complete sense to me and I wanted to get involved. The challenge is to ‘connect with nature’. I have a greenhouse in my garden that is basically storage for the lawnmower and I’ve only ever had one surviving houseplant so attempting to grow something really would be a challenge for me.

Not really knowing how I was going to fulfil the challenge, I headed to a garden centre for inspiration. I bought a new indoor plant to appreciate whilst working at my desk plus a couple of strawberry plants that the children chose. I put them in the greenhouse and re-potted them. Being ultra-cleanliness conscious, as a lot of us are these days, it did make a nice change to get my hands in the dirt and not care. The thing that really did make me feel good though was the smell.

The Mental Health Foundation research has shown that ‘the quality of our relationship with nature is part of the reason for its positive impact’. Simply going for a walk in the park is good but to achieve quality we need ‘an emotional attachment’ and this is what I found via the smell. It immediately took me back to my childhood home where my parents were avid gardeners and encouraged us to get involved and grow our own plants in the greenhouse every spring and summer.

So that then became my focus for the week, smell every plant and tree I passed. I may have looked a little (or a lot!) odd to some, cycling around the park, stopping every minute by another tree, but I found it funny which lifted my mood further. Some plant aromas would remind me of places/experiences, others didn’t really smell of much at all. Conifers took me back to being a child, excitedly playing hide and seek in my grandparent’s garden. Others just smelt nice and fresh.

Sniffing all these plants also meant I was breathing it in more, filling my lungs, effectively practicing mindfulness techniques without even realising it. I can’t be certain if it was just psychological but I felt more energised too. On rainy days I still made the effort to go out and that provided different smells to experience. I’m not going to lie, they weren’t always nice ones, certain bushes smelt distinctly like dog’s toilets so I made a mental note not to return to those again, but most were refreshing.

I actually started the week feeling a little down, which is not unusual these days, but I have ended the week feeling very positive. There is a reason why the Mental Health Foundation has chosen connecting with nature as their theme, it genuinely helps. If you have a spare afternoon/evening with no plans here is a link to 10 suggested walks to try out for those who fancy it, I’d highly recommend it.

By Sarah Williams, Head of Finance and Paraplanning. 

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