One of the unexpected side effects of the pandemic, with its raft of challenges and difficulties, is that a great number of people reconnected with nature and the outdoors, helping to highlight the importance of spending time in nature for our mental and physical wellbeing.

Walking in nature was cited as one of the main coping strategies during the long months of the pandemic with 45% reporting that spending time in green spaces had been vital for their mental health .

For me personally, I’m happiest and at my best when I’m outdoors. From a young age, I have spent as much time as possible outdoors (walking, cycling, on horseback), enjoying how alive and happy it makes me feel. It’s in nature, on long solitary walks that I have my most creative ideas, that I can see a little further into my life. Spending time in nature helps me to reconnect with myself when I feel out of sorts, upset, anxious or unsure about something. In connecting with nature and to something bigger than myself, I find a way back to my senses and to a deep-set feeling of ease and contentment; to what most matters right now.

We have always got a friend in nature, and when we reconnect with a good friend, it has a positive impact on our wellbeing.

Picture yourself walking through woodland or a park. Between the fresh air and birdsong, chances are you feel relaxed. You are more aware of your surroundings and your thoughts are clearer. Being in nature is an antidote to stress and anxiety.
Our connection with nature is hard-wired, and as such, spending time in nature can have a profoundly grounding effect, helping us to become more attuned to how we are feeling, calming the mind and reducing stress.

Nature is always there; patient, non-judgmental, spacious, solid and beautiful – what could be more reassuring.

How can nature help us to be more mindful?

Many of us spend much of our time on 'autopilot', lost in our thoughts, in ‘doing mode’ - thinking about the past or fretting about the future, analysing, comparing, judging, assuming, worrying and problem-solving - rather than paying attention to our direct actual experience in the present moment. The result is that we feel stressed, anxious, fearful or overwhelmed by life’s events.

Being in nature greatly facilitates a mindfulness practice. We naturally slow down when we’re in open, green space and our senses heighten as we connect to what’s around us. What’s more, as we walk, the unconscious mind streamlines thoughts, reflects and generates new ways of thinking, ideas and solutions.

In spring and summer, nature has so much to offer - there is much to see, to take in, to explore and admire.

As human beings (not human doings) we long to come back to our senses, to experiences that allow us to feel a connection with the world. Nature ignites and stimulates us but it has a different effect on us than the stimuli of everyday life.

Nature allows us to be.

Some attention requires mental effort and concentration, we need to focus hard to process information and to stay with a task, for example at work. Nature, by contrast, captures our attention involuntarily, it happens effortlessly and so provides what’s been coined as a ‘restorative environment’ .

Even a short walk in green space is enough to restore and reset the mind, to calm and relax us.

What are the mental health benefits of spending time in nature?

When we spend time outdoors, we slow down naturally, lowering the heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormone levels (cortisol and adrenaline). As the body softens, the nervous system calms and we feel more relaxed, grounded (in the body vs in the head), calm and more confident about ourselves and life. Being in nature strengthens our immune system, improves mood and reduces feelings of isolation.

Karen is part of Breathworks’ Mindful Workplace teaching team, to find out about how we can work with your organisation to improve employee mental wellbeing and stress management get in touch here.

About Karen

Karen is an accredited mindfulness teacher, a certified life and executive coach, eco-therapist, mentor and facilitator.

She offers tailored mindfulness and coaching programmes for the workplace as well as corporate retreat days in nature to foster personal and professional development, healthy minds and (self-) leadership.

Karen is an associate mindfulness teacher and supervisor with Breathworks UK and a member of the Association for Coaching. She has done further intensive training in mindfulness for the workplace at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre.

She follows the Good Practice Guidelines set out by the British Association for Mindfulness Based Approaches (BAMBA).

Before setting up Green Space Coaching & Mindfulness in 2008, Karen worked in Organisational Development at Friends of the Earth.

Karen is German and has lived in London for 20 years. She has had her own meditation practice for 13 years. From a young age she has felt a strong and deep connection with the nature world. Both, meditation and regularly spending time in nature have been an integral and vital part in Karen’s life to maintain a healthy mind and heart. Today this is what she wants to share with others.

For more information on Karen’s work, visit her website: