Many of us with mental health problems face barriers that might stop us connecting with nature. For example, you might:
- be unused to spending time in green space and find it uncomfortable or unfamiliar
- get tired easily, or have difficulty doing physical activities
- find spending time outside or around other people challenging
- be worried about costs
- feel low or unmotivated, or feel unsure if it's the right time for you to start something new.
Here are some tips and suggestions for you to consider:
- Start small – for example, try spending just five minutes paying attention to nature in your everyday life, as even small amounts of time can give your wellbeing a boost. (See our information on improving your wellbeing for more tips.)
- Do things you find relaxing – you might like to sit under a tree, look at the stars or do mindfulness or art activities in natural surroundings. (See our pages on relaxation, mindfulness and ideas to try in nature for more tips.)
- 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. If you're joining a formal ecotherapy programme, you could ask if a staff member or group leader can meet you beforehand. (See our pages on anxiety problems for more information and support.)
- Work with your highs and lows – consider which times of day you feel most energised, and when you find things harder. You might want to avoid times of day when side effects of any medication you take seem to cause more problems for you.
As someone who’s quite socially anxious, I’ve found it much easier to chat to people and make friends when you have a practical task to do together. You also share your love of nature with fellow volunteers and farmers, so you have easy common ground and there’s never pressure to chat if you don’t feel like it. I’ve got to know some of the best people I’ve ever known whilst de-lousing chickens and cleaning donkey hooves – this kind of work is extremely bonding.
- Bring nature indoors – if going outside isn’t possible or feels difficult at the moment, you could explore ways of bringing nature indoors.
- Plan ahead – check the weather forecast and think about any equipment you might find useful, like warm or waterproof clothing, sun protection or a map.
- Look for free swaps or giveaways – for example, you might be able to swap spare seeds with other gardeners at a seed-swap event.
- Ask your local Mind – they may be able to provide details of local ecotherapy projects or opportunities to apply for funding, for example through the Grow Wild project. (Use our online search tool to find your nearest local Mind.)
- Explore our useful contacts page – we've gathered together details of many different organisations who might help.
Hospitals and green space
While some hospitals have gardens, these aren't always well-maintained or available to use. If you're staying in hospital, you could ask staff if there's a garden you can access.
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, I learnt new skills and I thoroughly enjoyed being active and outside. Attending regularly built structure in my week and became something to look forward to. Volunteering gives my life purpose and meaning, which – whilst not being well enough to work right now – is vitally important for my recovery, as well as helping build a sense of hope for the future.
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 is all you need for a lot of activities ... I just love weeding and shovelling compost!
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.