With approximately one in four of us experiencing a mental health problem each year, wouldn’t it be fantastic if there were a treatment or pill that was effective, free, had no waiting lists or side effects, and had an immediate impact that lasted forever? Well, it turns out there is, and what’s more it can be accessed simply by opening the backdoor or looking out of the window: ‘Nature’ is back in fashion!
During the very unnatural experience of lockdown, we’ve been so grateful for our gardens and balconies, and have sympathised with those without either; and we’ve been doing things we’ve never done before: growing vegetables, watching nature programmes,
going for walks with our partners or children. Why? Because engaging with nature makes us feel better. There is now a wealth of scientific evidence to support the view that spending time outside in nature is good for us. When we are in nature our bodies and brains thrive, a fact that is hardly surprising when we consider that our species evolved over millions of years in natural environments.
So, what exactly is happening when we engage with nature? Well, first of all there are immediate physiological effects: our blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels all decrease, indicating reductions in stress. There’s also an increase in alpha wave activity in the brain, alpha waves being a sign of a ‘wakefully relaxed’ state – and who doesn’t want to spend more time ‘wakefully relaxed’?
And most recently, scientists have discovered that exposure to nature leads to increased natural killer cell activity in the blood, which boosts immune functioning, improves sleep and mood, and reduces symptoms associated with a number of mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
Dose of Nature is a mental health charity established to support people with a range of mental health issues by increasing their engagement with the natural world.
We offer an individual ten-week ‘nature prescription’ which combines education, guided activities and practical support led by a trained Dose of Nature Guide. We are of course blessed in our Richmond Borough with some of the capital’s most beautiful parks and gardens, but we also encourage people to discover the small hidden gems of nature near to them – a favourite tree, a churchyard or cemetery, or a little patch of green at the end of the road.
If you suffer from stress, depression or anxiety, have problems sleeping or concentrating, have ADHD or OCD, or have experienced addiction or trauma, then a Dose of Nature Prescription could be just what you need – ask your GP for
a referral or contact us on info@doseofnature. org.uk. And if you would like to volunteer to become a Dose of Nature Guide, then please do get in touch too.
Dr Alison Greenwood
Director and Lead Psychologist Dose of Nature | www.doseofnature.org.uk