Nature and mental health

Explains the mental health benefits of nature and gives tips and ideas to try. Also provides information on formal ecotherapy programmes, and where to find out more.

Your stories

Gardening, mental health and my positive workplace experience

Gardening and the support of her workplace have helped Mary to manage her bipolar

Posted on 01/04/2016

How getting a dog saved my life.

After his mental health took a dive, Paul began researching whether a furry friend might help him get back on track.

Posted on 08/01/2018

What nature ideas could I try?

This page has some tips and suggestions for enjoying nature:

Don't worry if some ideas don't feel right for you – see if you can find some that do, or adapt one to suit you.

I love watching the garden change, the difference I make when I dig a bed, plant something or even cut the grass... and honestly I am no gardener! An easy way for everyone to connect with outside is to watch the birds – put a bird feeder to attract them. Otherwise just get outside, blow the cobwebs away, breathe deeply... bliss.

Grow or pick food

  • Create a growing space. If you don't have access to a garden, you could plant salad leaves or herbs in a window box or plant pot.
  • Plant vegetables in your garden. (The Carry on Gardening and Thrive websites have information to help you get started.)
  • Go fruit picking. Look for local farms or orchards that let you pick fruit to buy. You might also find fruit growing in urban spaces, for example wild blackberries.
  • Learn to find edible plants, also known as food foraging. You could see if a foraging group meets in your local area. (The Woodland Trust website has more information on foraging.)

Quick tip: if you're going fruit picking or foraging, be aware that not all wild plants are safe to eat. Before eating something you've picked yourself, make sure you know exactly what it is.

>Read Mary's blog on how being in the garden helps her to manage her bipolar disorder, and the support she's received from her employer.

I very much enjoy being part of a community garden. It gives me a regular weekly time to devote to being outdoors, to work alongside people of lots of different ages and nationalities and teaches me a range of new skills and techniques. It is fantastic to work as part of a larger group, to see positive results in terms of seed and plant growth and harvest and to feel part of the natural cycle of life and see biodiversity at work.

[I started out] by just finding an empty and unused space in the garden outside my window and tending to it.

Bring nature inside

  • Buy flowers or potted plants for your home.
  • Collect natural materials, for example leaves, flowers, feathers, tree bark or seeds – use them to decorate your living space or in art projects.
  • Arrange a comfortable space to sit, for example by a window where you can look out over a view of trees or the sky.
  • Take photos of your favourite places in nature. Use them as backgrounds on a mobile phone or computer screen, or print and put them up on your walls.
  • Listen to natural sounds, like recordings or apps that play birdsong, ocean waves or rainfall.

Quick tip: save glass jars and use them to make mini gardens (also known as terrariums), using plants, soil, stones and anything else you'd like to include. Some people like to add seashells, or plastic toys or figurines.

I use photography as a creative outlet to express myself and support my health and wellbeing ... It helps you to really see, to be mindful in the moment and rediscover the beauty in your own surroundings. For example, noticing and capturing the resilience of a flower growing with determination though a crack in concrete, or capturing the beauty of raindrop patterns and formulations. The process of observing the outside world breaks the cycle of being caught up with negative internal dialogue.

Do activities outdoors

  • Take a walk in green space, such as a local park.
  • Get creative. Draw or paint animals or nature scenes, or let them inspire a poem or song lyrics. If you enjoy writing in a journal, try doing this outside.
  • Eat meals outdoors. Have a picnic in a local park, or simply sit in a garden. This might be something you could enjoy doing with other people.
  • Watch the stars. Use a stargazing website, app or book to help you recognise different stars, or simply enjoy looking at the night sky. Give your eyes time to adjust, as it can take about 20 minutes before you can fully see stars in the dark.
  • Try exercising outside. Run or jog through a local park, or do yoga outdoors. You could try it by yourself, or look for classes in your local area.
  • Go beachcombing. Visit the seaside and search the shoreline for interesting things.
  • Try geocaching. Geocaching involves looking for items in hidden outdoor locations, using a device such as a mobile phone or tablet. (The National Trust website has more information on geocaching.)
  • Be mindful in nature. Find things to see, hear, taste, smell and touch, like grass under your feet or the feeling of wind and sunlight. You could also listen to recordings of mindfulness exercises. (Our pages on mindfulness and taking a mindful moment in nature have more information.)

Quick tip: if you're going out on your own for longer than you usually would, or walking somewhere you don't know well, plan ahead and remember to keep your safety in mind. If you can, let someone know where you're going and for how long, and take your phone with you (making sure it's fully charged).

Hill walking and camping help to keep depression and anxiety at bay for my partner, as does trekking and gentle hill walking for me. When you are in nature only the real stuff matters (staying warm, staying fed, staying watered, and knowing where you are) ... your mind is free of the daily stresses and you can spend your time being in the moment instead.

Help the environment

  • Go on a litter picking walk, for example, in the park or on the beach.
  • Plant helpful seeds, such as berry bushes for garden birds or flowers to help bumblebees. (See the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website for more information on bumblebees.)

I started volunteering on Saturdays when I was in a really low frame of mind, and it really helped me recover more quickly. I work full-time in an office during the week so doing something so active in such a different environment is a lovely contrast.

Connect with animals

  • Watch out for wildlife. If you don't live near open countryside, try visiting a local park to look for squirrels, fish, insects, ducks and other birds.
  • Visit a local community or city farm. You might be able to help out by volunteering. (See the Social Farms & Gardens website for more information.)
  • Hang a bird feeder outside a window. If there's space, you could build a small wooden nesting box on a tree or under a windowsill.
  • Try birdwatching. You don't need any special equipment. (See the RSPB website for more information on feeding, sheltering and watching birds.)
  • Try pet-sitting or dog walking. Offer to be a pet sitter in your local neighbourhood, volunteer to walk dogs for an animal shelter, or ask to borrow a friend's dog for occasional evening or weekend walks.

Being outside, feeding rabbits, talking to the donkeys, ‘socialising’ goats and looking after sick lambs is incredibly grounding, no matter what my state of mind... being outside getting muddy in all weathers, breathing fresh air, proudly talking to visitors about the animals and being part of the seasonal cycle of a farm has been life-changing.

>Read Paul's blog about how getting a dog helped when he was struggling with his mental health.

Considerations before getting a pet
Many people find caring for a pet brings lots of benefits, but you need to be sure your living environment and personal circumstances are right for the animal as well as you. If you don't own your home, it's also important to check if you're allowed to keep pets.

(See the RSPCA and Blue Cross websites for more information about pet care.)

Watch Clare talk about how her dog, Watson, reminds her of some important principles of mindfulness:

My biggest highlight from farming was probably getting to witness goat triplets being born a couple of years ago and help them feed for the first time – there’s nothing like literally witnessing the birth of new life to give you perspective and make you feel connected with something much bigger than yourself, which I find very comforting.

This information was published in May 2018 – to be revised in 2021. References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information see our page on permissions and licensing.


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