Nurturing Mental Health Through Nature: Green Care
‘When we work with nature outside us, we work with nature inside us.’ Sue Stuart-Smith
We’re all familiar with that feeling of calm that being outside in nature brings, whether it’s strolling through a serene forest, gazing across a tranquil lake, or simply watering our garden plants. It’s as if everything you were worrying about suddenly disappears and you realise that your mind is the quietest it has been all day. Maybe you feel like you are finally able to breathe freely.
So why does nature have such a profound effect on us? Well, as Sue Stuart-Smith reminds us in her book, A Well Gardened Mind, as humans we tend to overlook the fact that we are, at heart, ‘creatures of the earth.’ In our modern world of artificial light, packaged foods and convenience stores, it’s easy to forget that we’re just as much a part of the natural world as the birds flying in the skies above us or the deer roaming the forests. The truth is our minds and bodies aren’t made for the fast-paced 24/7 lifestyle of today; they’re made for the slow and steady rhythms of nature. At our core, we are woven into the fabric of the earth.
This explains why we feel that sense of calm wash over us when we’re in nature. It’s also why experts in psychiatry are beginning to turn their attention to the benefits of ‘Green Care’. Rachel Bragg, part of the Green Care Research Team at the University of Essex, has long researched the link between nature and well-being. Her work highlights the idea that nature significantly alleviates symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and even more severe mental disorders.
‘Green care’ essentially refers to nature-based mental health interventions. Many doctors in the psychiatry field have recognised that by harnessing nature’s healing potential we can help alleviate many mental health conditions. Arguably, nature should be as much a part of our clinical healthcare system as CBT or prescribed medicines - part of a care plan for patients.