The link between the natural world and our mental and physical wellbeing is no new thing. People have known for centuries of the benefits a relationship with nature can bring, but every now and then many of us need to remind ourselves just how important this connection is.
I have struggled with my mental health since I was a teenager. I’ve been on medication twice, sat in stuffy rooms with countless counsellors, and was one of the first students in my FE college to receive cognitive behavioural therapy (which I did, in fact, find very useful). Over the years I’ve discovered and developed my own coping strategies to work with my mind rather than against it. For many years I just didn’t ‘get’ yoga, but then when I returned to it in my 30s it suddenly all made sense. Exercise helps, as does meditation (that one’s definitely a work-in-progress). However, when I’m having a bad day there is one thing above all else that I turn to: my relationship with nature.
Rediscovering nature: what I learnt at drama school
I trained as an actor at East 15 Acting School, under the formidable Andrea Brookes. All the drama schools teach certain core subjects and tools of our craft, but what Andrea also encouraged was a connection with nature as a way to build resilience and cope with the uncertainties of a performer’s life. Under her guidance, speaking sonnets to a leaf never felt silly, and I embraced my rediscovery of the natural world whole-heartedly. When you’ve just had your third ‘no’ in a row from an audition, taking yourself outside for a walk amongst all that green can help to put things in to perspective. There is something bigger than us. We are part of a complex and wonderful system far more important than our last audition and whether we sang in tune or not.
During lockdown I’ve been going out for daily walks around Pendennis Headland, near where I live in Falmouth. For the first few days my feet seemed to land subconsciously, one after the other, my mind elsewhere, and there was a value in this itself. However, on the third day, while out walking I suddenly stopped and listened. It was a few minutes after sunrise and while humans were staggering out of their beds to promises of warm toast and a hot cup of coffee, or snuggling under the covers for ‘just five more minutes’, all around me the air was alive with song. Birds called to one another from the treetops, as if to say, “Good morning! Got much planned for today?” As I started to slow down physically, I began to notice more during this precious hour outside… Flowers I’d never bothered to acknowledge before, their colours impossibly vibrant. The robin that was always poised on a nearby twig, sussing out this newcomer to its territory. The common green shield bug basking in the sun on a leaf, almost indistinguishable from its surroundings.
When I slowed down, stopped trying to force myself into moulds I didn’t recognise and instead let the natural world in, this ‘noticing’ opened up a world of wonders around me. So many things I had missed before. And, very importantly, it brought a sense of quiet to my mind that I had been desperately searching for. This is akin to what we call ‘mindfulness’, but I find the word ‘noticing’ resonates with me.
I realise not everyone reading this will have access to abundant green spaces nearby, but even quietly observing a tree on your street, a bird on a rooftop or a bush full of camouflaged creepy crawlies will reap benefits.
Out on my walks I’ve been recording snippets of the sounds all around me. When I’m feeling anxious or just can’t make it out the front door that day, I listen to these sounds and they soothe my worried mind. I’ve included one of my recordings below:
So next time you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, like there’s too much darkness in the world or too many thoughts in your head, all screaming for your attention, spend some time with nature. You will find darkness there too, of course. But you will also find light, beauty and, hopefully, some peace.