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Press pause and discover nature's secret

Paths for All Development Officer Richard Armstrong reveals a big secret that will help you make the most of nature

Published: 13/10/2020

I’m about to reveal to you one of nature’s greatest secrets. A secret that will truly help you make the most of nature. 

Through accident, trial, and error, I found that this secret can be hugely beneficial to my wellbeing no matter where I am, what time of year it is, or what time of day it is. I could use this secret to help myself feel better, lift my spirits, improve my mood, and help me think clearer. By practising this secret, I developed an even greater love and appreciation for nature than I ever had before.

But before I tell you the secret, I should explain briefly how I discovered how useful it can be. Like many other people in the UK, I have suffered from depression. It happened at a time when I genuinely felt that life couldn’t get any better, I was surrounded by great family, great friends, very active outdoors running and cycling and had a job that I loved. Very quickly I found it incredibly challenging to do any of the things I loved, and my mood was very low.

Going for a walk in nature would always make me feel better, but I was aware that although I was in nature my mind was always somewhere else. Usually thinking negative thoughts and overthinking things. I could have walked past a scurry of raving squirrels and wouldn’t have noticed they were there.

I tried many things to try and improve how I felt, one of the things that was very helpful was meditation. The trouble was I found it hard to find the time to do it, little time before I went to work and impossible to do during the day, and to be honest, I felt silly and awkward doing it.

A sport I started to do more of was bouldering outdoors (if you don’t know what bouldering is click here. When bouldering, what tends to happen is, you’ll spend 2 or 3 minutes trying to climb something and then you’ll rest / recover for 10. During these rest sessions I’d often sit admiring the surroundings and noticing nature, the sounds, the colours, the sun, the wind etc. I felt a feeling of connectedness with nature and these experiences were to me very similar to meditating.

This is when I realised that I had discovered nature’s greatest secret and that is: Being outside in nature is great, but connecting with nature is life changing.

You can connect with nature everywhere, every day, 24 hours a day.

The emphasis here is on the word connecting. So, what is connecting with nature or nature connectedness as it’s also called. Well it’s perhaps useful to tell you what it isn’t. It’s not running around with an ID guide trying to find out the names of trees and plants and it’s not walking about the woods wearing earphones. It’s more than just being in nature, we need to a small step further and tune in to nature and connect with it.

It is simply using our senses to tune in and notice the natural world that’s all around you. Using your hearing to listen to bird songs, wind or water. Using your eyes simply to observe the natural world, colours, shapes, wildlife even the sky and the clouds. Feeling the heat from the sun, a gentle breeze, the texture of plants. You can do it for two minutes or two hours it doesn’t matter. You can do it when walking to the shop, standing at a bus stop or on the summit of a mountain, it doesn’t matter. You’re unlikely to feel silly or awkward as, in most cases, other people won’t be aware that you are doing it.

The National Trust Notice Nature Report published in 2020 was the first report I had read that confirmed to me that my experiences weren’t just a coincidence. The benefits of connecting with nature highlighted in this report are mind-blowing. Three of my favourite quotes from the report are below:

  • ‘Nature connectedness’ is strongly linked to lower levels of depression and anxiety
  • Children with a strong connection to nature feel healthier
  • People taking conservation action are more likely to be ‘noticing nature’ than they are to be studying it

So, go out there, make the most of nature. Connect less with electronic devices and more with nature, stop listening to the Beatles and start to listen to the birds, and look out for raving squirrels.

For more information, see the National Trust’s Everyone Needs Nature feature and Finding Nature.

To take a more mindful walk and connect with nature, have a listen to our Mind to Walk podcast.