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Nature and mental health

Explains how nature can help your mental health. Gives tips and ideas to try, and suggests where to go for more information.

How can I get started?

Sometimes it can be hard to know how to connect to nature. It can be difficult to get started. And many of us with mental health problems face barriers that might stop us connecting with nature.

You don't need to have gardening skills or knowledge to get involved in garden/horticulture projects. Just a willingness to get your hands dirty. I just love weeding and shovelling compost!

Taking the first step

When we are feeling low or unwell, it can be hard to find the energy to go outside or try new things. Even if we know something might make us feel better, it can still be difficult to find the motivation to get started.

You might feel nervous about going outside, especially if you are used to spending a lot of time indoors. You might be unsure if it’s the right time to start something new. Or you might be worried it won’t work for you.

Here are some things you can try:

  • Start small. Even small amounts of time in nature can boost our mood. Try spending five minutes paying attention to nature. You can do this outdoors or in your home.
  • Do what works for you. Try different nature activities to find things you enjoy and that you can fit into your daily life. Try not to worry if something does not work for you.
  • Do things you find relaxing. You might like to sit under a tree, look at the stars or do art activities in natural spaces. See our pages on relaxation, mindfulness and ideas to try in nature for more tips.
  • Work with your highs and lows. Think about which times of day you feel most energised, and when you find things harder. For example, if medication side effects make you tired in the mornings, plan your activities for later in the day.
  • Remind yourself what works. Each time you have a good experience in nature, write down how you feel or take a picture. Keep your notes or pictures on your phone or in a diary. You can then try using them as motivation for next time.
  • Try not to judge your feelings. When we worry about our thoughts and feelings, it can be harder to take notice of our surroundings. Try to focus on what you can see, hear, smell, touch or feel. And try not to worry if you don’t feel better straight away.
  • Set small challenges. This can give you a goal to focus on. It can also help you regularly connect with nature . For example, you could try to notice three things in nature each day.

I’d set my phone timer for five minutes, walk along Bournemouth gardens, take some photos. Then when the timer went off I'd go home and write about how I felt in my diary.

Accessing nature

It can be hard to know where to find nature. Many of us do not have a garden. And those of us who live in cities or towns may not live near a park or green space.

You may be worried about the cost of transport, plants or gardening equipment. You might get tired easily or have difficulty doing physical activities. And green spaces are not always accessible for everyone.

Here are some tips and suggestions for you to consider:

  • Look for nature wherever you are. Nature is everywhere, even in busy towns and cities. Walk around your local area or look out of your window and take notice of trees, birds, insects, the sky or the weather. The Wildlife Trusts website has information on where to spot urban wildlife.
  • Look for local green spaces. Your local council may have information about parks or nature reserves near you. You can find your local park on the GOV.UK website. Or you could use a walking app such as Go Jauntly to find nearby walks.
  • Ask your local Mind. Your local Mind may be able to provide details of local projects or ways to connect to nature in your area, including organised groups so that you can meet other people.
  • Look for accessible green spaces or activities. The Wildlife Trusts have information on accessible nature reserves. The National Trust and The Outdoor Guide have information on accessible walks. Euan’s Guide has disabled access reviews for places across the UK, including parks and green spaces. Thrive provides information and tips for disabled gardeners.
  • Bring nature indoors. If going outside isn't possible or feels difficult at the moment, you could try ways of bringing nature indoors.
  • Look for free swaps or giveaways. For example, you might be able to swap spare seeds with other gardeners at a seed-swap event.

It can be difficult to access some types of nature activities if you don't have the money to pay for them. See our useful contacts page for a list of organisations that provide different nature-based activities. It could be worth having a look through these for free activities.

If you are worried about money, our information on money and mental health may also be helpful.

I would encourage everyone to look out for wildlife in their own local environment. Even in a busy city it can be surprising how many species of plants and animals are there if you take a moment to pause and look around.

Hospitals and green space

If you're staying in hospital, ask the staff if there's a garden you can access.

Preparing to spend time in nature

There may be other practical issues to consider. You might be worried about safety. Some parks or green spaces may feel unsafe. You might be worried about crime, harassment or abuse, especially if you've had bad experiences in the past.

You might feel like spending time in nature is not for you. Or you may feel unwelcome or out-of-place in the countryside or other green spaces. You may not have the time if you are busy with work, studying, childcare or other responsibilities.

Here are some suggestions for you to consider:

  • Ask for support. For example, if you feel anxious in new places or social situations, you could ask someone you trust to go with you at first.
  • Plan ahead. Check the weather forecast and think about things you might need. This could include warm or waterproof clothing, sun protection, a water bottle or a map.
  • Fit nature into your routine. Spend time in nature doing things that you already do. For example, you could make a phone call while going for a walk in nature. Or you could study, work or exercise outdoors rather than indoors.
  • Think about timing. If you live in a busy area, you may want to go out at when it’s quieter. Or you may feel safer going out when there are more people around.

I volunteer with a local city farm. At first I was really nervous and my anxiety was sky high but I slowly built confidence. I made friends, learnt new skills and enjoyed being active and outside. Attending regularly built structure in my week and became something to look forward to.

What if it doesn't work for me?

Try not to blame yourself if something you've tried doesn't work for you. Managing a mental health problem can be really difficult, especially when you're not feeling well. And different things work for different people.

There are many other nature ideas you could try, and other options for treatment and support. Our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem could help you explore more options.

Volunteering gives my life purpose and meaning which (whilst not being well enough to work right now) is vitally important for my recovery. It helps build a sense of hope for the future.

This information was published in November 2021. We will revise it in 2024.

References and bibliography available on request.

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