Since the first humans appeared, we’ve evolved from outdoor beings to indoor dwellers. We’ve developed from being active in hunting and gathering to shopping online, from hand-crafting our tools to sitting at desks, and from looking out onto open space to staring at screens. Our level of physical activity is reducing and our level of mental activity is increasing.

The trouble with this mental activity and our ability to think is that we can end up overthinking and overcomplicating things. When we do this, we can feel overwhelmed. This can impact our ability to think rationally or problem-solve. As a result of this, we can fail to take positive actions to help us improve the way we feel. Overthinking can be paralysing. Focusing our attention externally can be helpful in breaking patterns of overthinking.

Mental health can be very complex, but sometimes the simplest things can make a big difference. Sometimes, taking small steps to improve our wellbeing can help us move on to bigger actions. One way we can get started is by re-connecting with nature. There is growing research that shows that spending time in nature has many benefits for our mental health and wellbeing. Some of this research has found:

  • Spending time in green spaces such as parks or gardens can reduce stress and improve both our mood and sense of life-satisfaction.
  • Listening to nature sounds such as birdsong or rainfall, can support us to focus externally which can have a soothing effect.
  • Exercising in a green space has been found to have benefits on our emotional wellbeing in as little as five minutes. These benefits include increased self-esteem and improved mood.
  • Experiences in nature has been found to increase happiness, energy and motivation and decrease mental distress.
  • Physical activity such as walking or running outdoors has been found to reduce feelings of anger and sadness more so than when done indoors.
  • Outdoor activities can improve memory, concentration and focus.

There is also research that suggests we can benefit from nature indoors too. This includes looking at images of nature, looking at nature views from a window and keeping plants. Some of these benefits include reduced feelings of stress – both emotionally and physically – and greater feelings of relaxation and restoration.

With all of this in mind, here are a few ideas you might like to try out to get started:

  • Take a break in the day to go for a walk, get some fresh air and focus on your surroundings.
  • Take time to water or prune a houseplant, recognising it as something living and growing in your home.
  • Give your eyes a break from screens by gazing out of the window throughout the day and watching the sky or trees.
  • Take time to arrange a bouquet of flowers, noticing the colours and smells.
  • Find a photo or image of nature that you like and display it somewhere you can see it often.
  • Watch the sunrise or sunset.

There are lots of other outdoor activities you can try. Give some thought to what you enjoy and whether you can take your hobbies outside. Give it a try and notice how you feel afterwards. If we’re able to active notice that something has benefitted us and been enjoyable, we’re more likely to do it again!