🌿Ecotherapy & the Benefits of Nature

Today (Monday 10 May) marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week – and this year’s theme is ‘connect with nature’. At Hector’s House, we are big believers in ecotherapy – so to mark the occasion, we are narrowing down on our connection with nature and the benefits it may have on our mental health.  

The benefits 

There are a number of reasons why connecting with nature has a huge impact on our mental well-being. 

  • It reduces feelings of stress and anxiety and can enable healing 

There has been ongoing research done in hospitals and wellness centres that has proven patients heal faster when there’s a view of nature – or even a plant in their room. Likewise, it’s become more and more evident that being in nature makes us feel calmer and less stressed. 

  • It helps us be mindful  

It’s very easy to pound the pavements on a walk and think of the emails you have to send, the conversation you had with someone four weeks ago, the shopping list, the exam coming up… But on a walk surrounded by nature, it helps us to shift our focus outward. The sound of the birds and the plants rustling in the wind, the stillness we feel and mesmerising imagery – we become totally engrossed, something that is hard to do when we are indoors.  

  • It encourages us to be active 

It’s really difficult – especially when our mental health is low – to get out and go for a run or do a workout. We barely want to leave the couch. Being in nature means that we are encouraged to explore, to walk – a fantastic way to move our bodies – and it helps to keep us motivated. Slowly building up from a walk in the woods, to perhaps a run or a longer distance hike, is easier to do if we can immerse ourselves in the great outdoors.  

  • It actually gives us nourishment 

Sounds crazy, but it’s true! Vitamin D is crucial for our mental health, and the best way of getting this is from direct sunlight in the summer months. We also get more oxygen from being around trees and plants. Even having a houseplant helps to purify the air we breathe.  

5 ways to get connected with nature  

So, now we know why we should be in nature – but how can we make the most of our time in the great outdoors? Here are five ways to get more connected with nature:  

  1. Stop and take 5. When you’re next outside on a walk – or even in your garden – stop, take a deep breath and focus on your five senses. What can you see? What can you smell? What nature sounds can you hear? How does the sun or wind feel on your skin? What tastes are coming to your mind?  
  1. Plan a mindfulness walk. Choose a route in advance that will help you to become totally encapsulated with nature. Waddesdon Manor, for example, has a fantastic route available – but there are many free alternatives locally, too. Get into your local park or woodlands and see how much nature you can notice and take in.   
  1. Touch a tree. This may seem a bit odd, but gazing up at a magnificent tree whilst feeling the bark on your fingertips helps us to connect with these amazing plants. Think about how long this tree has been around – how much it has survived and how much it gives to the world around it. A home for creatures, air for us to breathe, shelter from rain and sun… The list goes on! You could even give it a little hug if you’re feeling brave.  
  1. See it for the first time. Have you ever been on a walk with a toddler who points out every little detail on a walk like it’s the most amazing thing they’ve ever seen? Well, channel your inner toddler next time you’re out in nature. Try to imagine you are seeing your surroundings for the first time ever. Marvel at the colours of the plants. Be astonished at the great heights of the trees. Find the little creatures flying overhead awe-inspiring. You’ll be amazed how much we don’t ‘see’ when we are in auto-pilot. 
  1. Take care of it. Another way to get connected with nature is to nurture. Treat yourself to a houseplant and care for it. Pick up litter when you’re out. Plant some wildflowers for the pollinators or get some seeds for the birds. You’ll feel great for helping your local environment. 

The Mental Health Foundation has an amazing article on why nature has been chosen as this year’s theme, as well as a number of great resources for you to share and use this week:  

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week/why-nature

Our stories 

Here at Hector’s House, we wanted to share our stories on why nature means so much to us. We’d love to hear yours, too! Use #ConnectWithNature to take part.  

Lotte – Hector’s sister and CEO of Hector’s House 

I have always enjoyed nature and being in nature, from taking the dog for a walk to enjoying a breathtaking view. Something about views and scenery helps my mind, personally.  

I found when I was working through the early stages of grief after Hec passed away, I was really drawn being outside. I felt it helped with staying grounded at that time – when I looked at a really big view, everything in my head seemed to minimise and give me a little more space to process what I was going through. 

Fast forward a decade and I still process my thoughts by going for a walk or a run & still visit a beautiful view if I am feeling overwhelmed.  

During the first lockdown when everything closed including the gyms we were forced to train outside. Physical fitness for me is integral, I like to start my day with training as I feel it is my promise I keep to myself as I know I always feel better after training and it is the ‘something’ I do for myself everyday.  

When the gyms closed it was time to go rogue. I am very fortunate that I have a space where I live and a friend who fashioned me a pull up bar and parallel bars to train with (thank you Charles!). 

So it began, March 2020 I started to train outside, at my usual training time 06:30am. Well, it was different, very different from training inside! It was cold, sometimes wet and gray and a slog.  

It progressed, the clocks went forward and all of a sudden it was glorious.  

The sun was shining, the birds were singing and it was a joy to be up and out at the time in the morning, there was so much to take note of. As the year moved on with the challenges that we were all overcoming and moving through my outside training remained consistent. 

 When the gyms sadly closed for a second time, we started training consistently outside. All through winter, again it became cold – the question was is it a one or two pair of leggings morning? We carried on, and again we began to notice nature, firstly it ruled if we were able to train that day and then once we were out we began to see the beauty. The cold frozen dark mornings make the matting on the ground look like the Strictly dance floor and the days when it snowed make us feel like we were training in a Rocky film. It was tough during the winter – really tough – and we knew that but what we also knew was the clocks would change soon and the mornings would be lighter soon, it gave us a sense of hope and excitement for the future.  

Sure enough the clocks leaped forward and it was lighter. The sun came up and it was beautiful, sometimes the whole sky was pink, the birds started to sing and we began to witness everything waking back up. 

My very early mornings are very important to me, I was beginning to feel the pleasure of being up at the time, how lucky I felt to be watching the sun rise. I was noticing that I was finding the joy in watching nature wake back up after the winter months. I had witnessed the trees shedding their leaves the colours of autumn, how stark they looked over the winter, to watching everything become a little more green again, and came to the blossom, I had never noticed the beauty before.  

The national trust had ‘Blossom Watch’ on the 24th April a beautiful campaign to encourage mindfulness.  

‘In Japan, spring blossom is celebrated with the traditional custom of Hanami, which means ‘flower viewing’ and is an opportunity to take in the beauty of flowers.’  

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/blossom-watch

The early morning and the stillness has encouraged me to notice all of nature in a way I had not done before.  

The combination of moving my body and being up so early has provided me with the tonic I needed during the very turbulent year. It provided consistency. It was the ‘something’ I knew would be mostly the same everyday, and the opportunity to watch seasons evolve, to fundamentally understand that everything is temporary, when it was really cold to know the warmer weather was coming and in warmer months, to know the beautiful scenery that the frost makes in the winter.  

I know that training outside may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but just taking a moment in the morning with your first drink of the day to notice nature in whatever capacity you can may provide the movement of stillness that we can all benefit from.  

Is there a view that you could look at daily and notice the small changes that are happening within that view.  

Jo – regular donor and dear friend of Hector’s House 

As much as I have enjoyed this past year of training outdoors, I’ve also realised that my drive to and from this just adds to the experience. I love the heightened awareness of the seasons – from scraping the frost off the car in the pitch dark to gradually appreciating the mornings becoming lighter and warmer. 

On every journey you can guarantee an encounter with wildlife, from muntjacs and rabbits hopping across the road, the pheasant that insists on standing his ground until he has made his point, to the lambs now in the fields. 

And finally the amazing colours of the leaves in Autumn to the first ones coming back through in spring. The colour of the increasing amounts of blossom makes me really happy. 

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