Press pause this Mental Health Awareness Week, with Paths for All

11th May 2021

Paths for All Development Officer Richard Armstrong tells us how he makes the most of nature, this Mental Health Awareness Week

“I’m about to reveal to you one of nature’s greatest secrets. A secret that will truly help you make the most of nature. 

“Through accident, trial, and error, I found that this secret can be hugely beneficial to my wellbeing no matter where I am, what time of year it is, or what time of day it is. I could use this secret to help myself feel better, lift my spirits, improve my mood, and help me think clearer. By practising this secret, I developed an even greater love and appreciation for nature than I ever had before.

“But before I tell you the secret, I should explain briefly how I discovered how useful it can be. Like many other people in the UK, I have suffered from depression. It happened at a time when I genuinely felt that life couldn’t get any better, I was surrounded by great family, great friends, very active outdoors running and cycling and had a job that I loved. Very quickly I found it incredibly challenging to do any of the things I loved, and my mood was very low.

“Going for a walk in nature would always make me feel better, but I was aware that although I was in nature my mind was always somewhere else. Usually thinking negative thoughts and overthinking things. I could have walked past a scurry of raving squirrels and wouldn’t have noticed they were there.

“One of the things that I found helpful was meditation. The trouble was I found it hard to find the time to do it, and to be honest, I felt silly and awkward doing it.

“”A sport I started to do more of was bouldering outdoors. During rest sessions I’d often sit admiring the surroundings and noticing nature, the sounds, the colours, the sun, the wind etc. I felt a feeling of connectedness with nature and these experiences were to me very similar to meditating.

“This is when I realised that I had discovered nature’s greatest secret and that is: Being outside in nature is great, but connecting with nature is life changing.

“You can connect with nature everywhere, every day, 24 hours a day.

”Connecting with nature is about simply using our senses to tune in and notice the natural world that’s all around you. Using your hearing to listen to bird songs, wind or water. Using your eyes simply to observe the natural world, colours, shapes, wildlife even the sky and the clouds. Feeling the heat from the sun, a gentle breeze, the texture of plants. You can do it for two minutes or two hours;. when walking to the shop, standing at a bus stop or on the summit of a mountain. You’re unlikely to feel silly or awkward as, in most cases, other people won’t be aware that you are doing it.

“The National Trust Notice Nature Report confirmed to me that my experiences weren’t just a coincidence. The benefits of connecting with nature highlighted in this report are mind-blowing – for example it found that ‘nature connectedness’ is strongly linked to lower levels of depression and anxiety.

“So this Mental Health Awareness Week, go out there, make the most of nature. Connect less with electronic devices and more with nature, stop listening to the Beatles and start to listen to the birds, and look out for raving squirrels.

To take a more mindful walk and connect with nature, have a listen to our Mind to Walk podcast.