A lot of healing comes from nature. It's important to recognize and remember that because it's something that's on our doorstep. It's available to us all the time and yet sometimes we can either take it for granted or forget its effect on us. Use these 5 ways to wellbeing to get more nature into your life.
Building our resilience
There are many ways in which we can build our resilience if we think about the whole person model.
The areas in the green circle are really important. They have a profound impact on how we can live our lives, the relationships, family structures, close friendships, broader communities, some of the practical issues we face like work and finances, and factors that have an impact on how we can live and what we can do to help ourselves and our environments.
We can think about ways of building our resilience that focus on the body, mind, emotional health, and creating and nourishing our spiritual health.
You can nourish yourself using techniques to support your mind and your mental health and they will fill up the same tank. Things that you do, for example, physical activity, or maybe paying attention to your diet.
We often help encourage people to think about what are the things that really sustain their resilience levels and what might be currently draining their resilience level. We know it's really interesting that our environments are important. There may be a hidden drainer of resilience if we live in an environment where we don't get access to daylight or nature, for example, in the sort of quantities that our bodies are designed to have.
Introduction to Nature-Based Approaches
Nature-based interventions/approaches can really support our resilience. Our resilience is our ability to ride over the rocks or the challenges that life throws at us. In many areas of life, it makes sense to actually focus on the individual challenge. In medicine, we think of these different rocks as for example the rock of diabetes, the rock of cancer, the rock of mental health problems, and we focus very much on the rock and what can we do to reduce that rock.
In the case of cancer we've got clever surgical tools that can remove the bits of the rock, we've got clever chemicals, our chemotherapy that can dissolve bits of the rock, we've got radiotherapy, which is a bit like dynamite and blasts the rock away.
Many treatments, particularly treatments that people with cancer have to undergo, can reduce our resilience by their very nature. We start off well and at the end of a course of treatment we feel less well and so the resilience room in our Penny Brohn whole life approach aims to help people find the best tools to address their rocks.
Five ways to wellbeing
The five ways to wellbeing is a really useful model, it's a good reminder of ways to keep ourselves well. Nature can be a brilliant way of getting all these five ways to wellbeing. These have all been shown to be helpful in promoting wellbeing.
- Connecting - With other people, with oneself, connecting with how we're feeling, and also connecting to the wider world, or even the bigger power that we find ourselves surrounded by, by connecting with nature.
- Keep Learning - Nature is full of mystery, full of the unknown, full of amazing things, so it gives a great opportunity for learning whether that's the names of things or the foraging and what you can eat. Beginning to understand how nature works is just inviting curiosity and questions.
- Being Active - It's a great avenue for learning, being active. Nature very often invites us to be out there, being active walking, talking, swimming, and you always do it without noticing.
- Take Notice - It's a real invitation towards mindfulness, towards a real appreciation of what's going on out there. The way that spring turns to summer turns to autumn, noting how the trees change, how the animals behave differently, what the weather's doing.
- Giving - Forgiving, being grateful. Noticing gratitude, being grateful for the things that nature bestows on us.
All of these things are really wonderful ways forward and all of them you can get from nature. We are nature, we are from the natural world, and it’s how humans feel safest. We know that when humans are surrounded by the colour green it does very powerful things to their blood pressure, to their stress hormone levels, to their feelings of well-being. There are good reasons for why humankind evolved in green, if an ancient human was surrounded by the colour green it meant there was food, there was shelter, and it’s a very positive stimulus for us to receive. It's not surprising when we see the colour green we get that response and feel good in nature as it's a way of putting us into safe, calm, rest, digest and repair mode.
A smart plan
One thing you can do to ensure you get nature in your life is by creating a smart plan. An example of this is going for a walk in your local park once a week with your friends and family. It could be just thinking about the year and making sure nature is a bigger part of the year, plan a weekend away or a week away somewhere where you're going to get lots of nature exposure, or it could be a regular activity monthly or weekly in a club or in an allotment or with a wildlife organisation. There are a number of different ways that we can bring nature into our lives. It could be a hobby, it might be something you already do, something you used to do more of, or something you've always thought of doing but not made the time or found the time.
This is an invitation to see what nature is asking you to do and it could be something completely different, it could be doing a watercolour class or it could be doing some indoor gardening.
- Specific - Make a plan about how you're going to bring nature into your life in the next days, weeks, months, and try and make it as specific as possible, so who, when, where, what, exactly what it looks like, what it smells like. It should be a specific image so you can picture it. It could be to bring in a different plant each month on my desk and pay attention to it for one minute at the start of every day. Making it very specific makes it easier to achieve and more likely to happen.
- Measurable - It should be measurable, so once a week, or three times a month, or every day.
- Attainable - Make it so you can tick off whether you are or you aren't achieving it, to give a bit of accountability and make it more likely to happen. Make it realistic, don't make it a huge mountain to climb, make it something that you actually are likely to be able to do. Making it small and achievable is better than massive and then daunting, so maybe scale it down to make sure it's something achievable and attainable.
- Relevant - It must be relevant, so make sure that it is doing something that you want, it's bringing something that you want into your life, something that means something to you.
- Time-based - An example of making it time-based is “within the next month I want to have been to this garden centre twice” or “over the next six months, I want to be practising this exercise”, make sure it's got a timeframe.
Where to look
There are various ways you might want to get nature into your life, it could be through your GP. A lot of GP’s are now linked up with social prescribing initiatives and a lot of those are nature-based, so they're basically activities in nature. That could be walking groups of various different levels, it could be therapeutic horticulture, could be blue water sports and water-related activities.
There are lots of other projects around you. If you look on google what's going on in your local area, if you look at health and nature, you may well find a lot of opportunities.
Simple ways to get more nature into your life
Nature is available to anyone. Just walking out of your door, looking in a hedgerow or in your garden, or in a woodland, or even on the pavement at nature doing its thing. Getting into your garden, using plants in the home, putting a green screensaver on your computer. Even just going there in your imagination, thinking natural thoughts, imagining natural themes. For working, busy people it could be the walk to work, it could be having meetings outside rather than indoors, going for a walk in your break time. You could bring in plants from home, have one day a week where you bring the dog or the cat or other pet into the office, or bring nature into screensavers among pictures on the wall for example.
If you're not going to work, if that's you or someone you know, there are still things you can do in the comfort of your own home. Indoor plants, raised beds, gentle walking groups.
Put your smart plan in your diary. Having nature connections written in the diary on Tuesday mornings, Wednesday evenings, or Thursday lunchtimes is brilliant.
Resources here at Penny Brohn UK
Duncan Still is in the Penny Brohn gardens four times a year, recording a walking tour around the garden and will be pointing out what's in season, what's around, finding stuff to eat or use from nature.
Visualising nature for mindfulness - Take a wander around our interactive gardens
Cancer: Walking For Wellbeing - Encouraging people to get walking to improve their wellbeing is an important message.
What to do if you can’t get outside - If you don't have access to a garden, or can't get outside regularly, here are a few tips on bringing the outdoors to you.
The Benefits of Exercise During Cancer Treatment - Learn how much and what type of exercise will benefit us.
Physical Activity and Cancer - How to get your physical activity in from daily tasks to fitness classes.
5 Ways to Wellbeing - Mind
Nature for Health and Wellbeing - The Wildlife Trusts
Wild Wellbeing: Your guide to connecting with nature to take care of your wellbeing - The Wildlife Trusts