Stepping out: How nature can help us prepare for the changes that lie ahead

Posted on: 10th May 2021

Amy manages the British Liver Trust's virtual support groups and is also a qualified cognitive behavioural therapist. She shares this blog to mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week 2021. This year's theme is nature. 

Adapting back into “normal life” may not be as easy as it sounds.

After months of shielding and isolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we are now in a position where we can start to slowly integrate back into society. Whether it means seeing family and friends, going for a meal in a restaurant or going back to work, lots of change is happening very quickly.

Adapting back into “normal life” may not be as easy as it sounds. Because we have been isolated and withdrawn from our normal lives for such a long period of time, it is very normal to feel nervous, anxious or even frightened of having such freedom back. There is still such uncertainty about the coming months and what may happen next.

But there are things we can do to help us feel readier to take a step outside our front doors again. As it is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme is nature, I will focus on some exercises surrounding nature that can help prepare us for the changes that lie ahead.

Exercise: When we feel sad, we often feel more tired, have difficulty sleeping and tend to have a more negative mindset. This can prevent us from doing things we enjoy. This leads to withdrawal behaviour such as staying home and avoiding interacting socially with others. A simple way of breaking this cycle is by exercise. Exercise helps reduce our feelings of low mood by releasing feel good hormones which in turn helps to reduce stress. There are so many benefits to exercising outdoors such as: burning more calories, breathing in fresh air and exposure to vitamin D by being out in the sunshine.

Calming effects of nature: Nature is very calming and really useful for anyone who is feeling quite anxious. By hearing the songs of birds, smelling the flowers while gardening or experiencing the rush of a river on a woodland walk, the senses come alive in nature and can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

Getting out of your head: When we feel anxious or low we tend to ruminate in our minds. We can get out of our heads through nature by shifting the focus and being more aware of our surroundings. By using the 5, 4, 3 ,2, 1 technique we can let go of our running thoughts by focusing using just our senses. Using the senses outdoors try to notice:

5: things I can see

4: things I can hear

3: things I can feel

2: things I can smell

1: slow deep breath

Try it when on a walk, sitting in your garden or on a park bench. This grounding method pulls us back into the here and now which relieves some of our stress and worries.

Relaxation and nature: All the new changes in readjusting to normal life comes with a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. When we are anxious, our bodies become stressed which can leave us feeling overwhelmed. Visualisation techniques can help you to relax, whether this be as you are about to step outside your front door or when you have trouble sleeping at night.

Once such visualisation tool is called safe place imagery. Using nature as a guide, try think of a safe place. This could be somewhere you have already visited, somewhere you would like to go one day or even somewhere you made up. It could be a hot sunny beach, a forest trail or even your local country park.

Take a few moments to close your eyes and imagine this place.

Again, focus using your senses on what you can see, smell, touch and feel. Breathe in and out slowly focusing on your senses in your safe place. When you feel ready you can bring yourself back by opening your eyes and being aware of where you are now. This really helps calm the body down and stop those running thoughts bringing us a sense of relaxation.

It has been a very long 14 months in a pandemic and it is absolutely normal to feel stressed, sad and anxious. I hope by using some of these simple tools, it can help give you the confidence you need to adapt back into this new post-covid way of life.