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Let nature love you

Whenever my anxiety begins to get too much I pull on my biggest coat, grab our dog’s lead and head into the woods or parkland near our house. There’s just something about these chilly, autumnal days that helps to put everything into perspective. Perhaps it’s the sight of my breath vanishing into the cool air, as if my concerns are being carried away into the ether. It might be the sense of solitude that a twilight walk inspires, or the calmness that hangs in the air as the damp evenings draw in– the sort of day that can only be remedied by a mug of warm tea and a bowlful of homemade soup. Though the drizzle stings my cheeks and the wind paws at the toggles on my jacket, I can think of nowhere else I’d rather be in that moment.

You see, every step that I take is one more away from whatever worry had gripped me, and I am soothed for as long as I am outside. I cannot control the weather, or the direction in which a particularly gnarled branch is growing. I certainly couldn’t command the birds to leave their perches or taunt the wind into submission. I am at nature’s mercy; we are so much smaller than we can ever comprehend. While some would find that thought disconcerting I am calmed by the knowledge that my problems are relatively insignificant – I am a jigsaw piece in nature’s grand puzzle, and that’s perfectly fine with me. As my feet pound the sodden leaves I am utterly at nature’s mercy, and at peace with whatever it has in store. If only I could exist outside of life’s chaos for just that little bit longer I am sure that everything would be okay.

It comes as no surprise to me that NHS Shetland and the RSPB have chosen to champion a “Nature Prescriptions” project on the large Scottish island, or that several newspapers and media sites have been carrying stories about the remedial effects of wildlife on health and wellbeing in recent weeks. We have known for a long time that time spent outdoors can do wonder for mind, body and soul, and it’s wonderful that ‘the powers that be’ are finally acknowledging that there are alternatives to medication and organised therapies. That’s not to say that medication is wrong, of course; I manage my own anxiety and stress-related mental health problems with a combination of medication and nature. What works for one person won’t always work for another, but it’s so important that we give nature a chance. The world beyond your front door is free to explore, and immersing in nature can provide a meaningful connection that’s good for heart and spirit – and physical health, too.

Take a moment to stop and listen next time you’re outside. What’s that you hear? What can you smell, taste on the tip of your tongue, and see when you open your eyes at last? Grounding is a recognised technique in the treatment of many mental health conditions, and the great outdoors is a wonderful canvas for my own kind of therapy. This strong connection to nature can help to lift mood, reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure, while the act of being outdoors and undertaking physical activity is known to soothe sleep disorders, combat heart disease and tackle obesity. Put simply, being outdoors and at one with nature is a great way to harness your health – and to put a few things right while you’re at it.

My head is foggy; it’s been one of those days, yet I have a batch of assignments to write and an article to finish. My children deserve my undivided attention. We head outdoors and look for conkers at the base of the tree across the road. When we’re feeling adventurous we wander into the woods, or hop into the car to explore a nature reserve that’s a little out of walking distance. The work can wait, but as we romp and ramble, giggle and gather I can feel my mood lifting. I am inspired, and quickly write myself a note of the things I’d like to say once we’re home and I’m able to sit at my desk again. I’m not writing about nature today, but being outdoors has reminded me that everything deserves to be given time; a fresh perspective can do wonders for all manner of tasks. The leaves continue to fall, a cascade of colours before my eyes. Each one is a reminder that time doesn’t wait for anyone, but instead marches on waiting for us to catch up.

I am okay; I’ve got this. We’ve all got this, if we take the time to appreciate what’s right in front of us – and all around us.

Louise Baker