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Our relationship with nature – how much we notice, think about and appreciate our natural surroundings – is critical in supporting good mental health and preventing distress.

Nature is an important need for many and vital in keeping us emotionally, psychologically and physically healthy.

Regarding mental health benefits, nature has a very wide definition. It can mean green spaces like parks, woodland, or forests and blue spaces like rivers, wetlands, beaches or canals. It also includes trees on an urban street, private gardens, verges and even indoor plants or window boxes. Surprisingly, even watching nature documentaries is good for our mental health. This is great news as it means the mental health benefits of nature can be made available to nearly every one of us, no matter where we live.

Quality counts. Connecting with nature is critical.

Spending time in nature is good for us for lots of reasons. “Fresh air and exercise” have long been recommended as a way for many to feel better, physically and mentally.

Now evidence shows us that the quality of our relationship with nature is part of the reason for its positive impact on our wellbeing. Researchers use the term “connectedness” to describe the ideal relationship.

Connectedness refers to the way we relate to nature and experience nature. A strong connection with nature means feeling a close relationship or an emotional attachment to our natural surroundings. 

There are ways that we can develop our connectedness with nature. Activities that involve the senses can help to develop our connection with the natural world, as can activities where we feel emotions such as compassion, perceive beauty or find meaning in nature.

For instance, we might notice the beauty of nature by listening intently to birdsong or touching the bark of trees. Smelling flowers or feeling the soil between our fingers whilst planting bulbs in the garden are also highly sensual ways to connect with nature. We don’t always have to be in nature to further our relationship with the natural world: writing a poem about our favorite nature spot or reflecting on preferred walks helps us consciously notice, consider and pause to appreciate the good things in nature.

Free Person Standing on Cliff Stock Photo

People with good nature connectedness tend to be happier.

Research shows that people who are more connected with nature are usually happier in life and more likely to report feeling their lives are worthwhile. Nature can generate many positive emotions, such as calmness, joy, and creativity and can facilitate concentration.

Nature connectedness is also associated with lower levels of poor mental health, particularly lower depression and anxiety.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people with strong nature connectedness are likelier to have pro-environmental behaviours such as recycling items or buying seasonal food. This is likely to lead to further benefits if these pro-environmental activities can lead to natural improvements that we can then go on to enjoy. At a time of devastating environmental threats, developing a stronger, mutually supportive relationship between people and the environment will be critical.

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