Nature as therapy


Mental Health Awareness Week starts today and whilst I am not currently practising as a counsellor/psychotherapist, I have not forgotten the world of therapy of which I was a part for over 10 years till we moved to our smallholding. On the contrary, living up here in the tranquility and peacefulness of our piece of the Welsh countryside, I am reminded on a daily basis how being surrounded by nature is good for mental health and well-being: hills, trees, green fields, wildlife and birdsong all help to achieving a sense of inner calm and relieve stress.

Professionally, I am currently working on some retreat packages that I hope to be in a position to offer later this year on the theme of self-care and nurture in nature, the sort of break away from the busy and often complicated modern world, that leaves you feeling refreshed, revitalised and re-energised. Not therapy in the traditional sense of the word but definitely a therapeutic experience. The shepherd's hut is ready for guests now so the next step is for me to turn it into a nest for self-exploration and self-nurture.

What I want to offer is based on my own experience of the healing power of nature and the outdoors. When I am out gardening, when I commit my hands to the soil and the tending of seeds, seedlings and young plants, when I immerse myself fully in that activity, I immediately feel well, relaxed and at peace with myself. It enables me to let go of anxieties, worries and other stresses that I may be experiencing. Right at that moment, no matter what else is going on in my life, all is well. It is a powerful experience, even if it is only fleeting when we first connect with it. We are so conditioned to live in our heads rather than inhabit our whole bodies, to be in the past or the future rather than in the present, that not doing so is only possible for a moment at first. Yet, that moment, however tiny, is transformative and healing. And that moment, with practice and awareness, grows to play a vital part in keeping ourselves well.

Our lifestyle here is such that Nature is never far away. We notice how we adjust our activities to the seasons and our rhythms during the day are governed by the hours of daylight we get. There is plenty of work to be done outdoors, especially at this time of year when the garden is in full growth. There are weeds to attend to, seedlings to nurture, water and pot on, some edibles to harvest, cook and eat like purple sprouting broccoli, radish, rhubarb, spinach, spring onions. The arrival of the bluebells and the apple blossom, the abundance of wildflowers, the dawn chorus and the return of the redstart to the bird box in the garden are such a joy. We are blessed with the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets on our hill and the night sky, with so little light pollution, is amazing.

I feel incredibly lucky to have all this as a valuable resource for my own emotional and mental well-being. The beautiful thing is that Nature is available to us all, closer than we think, if only we slow down enough to notice the magic of it. This stuff changes lives! It has changed mine!