Using Nature to fight the winter blues

Using Nature to fight the winter blues

Winter can be a difficult time of year. As the memories of Halloween pumpkins and the joy of bonfire night fade into the distant past, winter seems to stretches in front of us with its long nightsn and cold days. Spring can feel like a long way off. On 30 October the clocks went back, and the days will continue to shorten until the winter solstice on 21 December. We’ve got a long road to walk until the snowdrops appear.

Losing the ability to get outside in the daylight after work is a hard adjustment for me, and the lack of daylight can get me feeling very low.  The dark nights of winter pull me into bed, and I feel an animal-like urge to cuddle down, pull the sheets around me and, like a hedgehog or a dormouse, hibernate until the flowers start to bloom again. What can be done to hold off the winter blues?

Feeling glum in the winter isn’t a new phenomenom. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a common condition that many people can experience at this time of year. The main theory is that lack of sunlight and vitamin D can impact your levels of serotonin, melatonin, as well as affecting your body clock.

Discussing mental health is slowly losing its stigma. As a society we are beginning to understand that looking after ourselves mentally is just as important to our wellbeing as our physical health. Talking to people, eating healthily and ensuring that we get enough sleep are all well documented ways of improving our mood. However, there is still one method that is still less discussed: time outside.

Ongoing science continues to highlight the vast importance of spending time out in nature. Nature has been shown to reduce our blood pressure, improve sleep quality, lower stress and boost our mood.  We’re also becoming aware of other exciting effects, such as improvements in creativity, problem-solving and empathy. Making time to get outside, especially during the winter, to enjoy nature can do wonders for our wellbeing.  

Avon Wildlife Trust is using this promising science to try and use nature to boost people’s mood and to help them with their mental health. We run various nature wellbeing sessions that are structured around work carried out by the University of Derby, known as ‘five ways to nature connection’, to engage participants with the natural world.  Studies have shown that individuals who are more connected to nature report improved wellbeing and feelings of personal growth.

The great news is that it’s not just we humans who stand to gain – it turns out that wildlife benefits, too.  A closer relationship with nature has been shown to result in an increase in sustainable and pro-conservation behaviours such as recycling, reducing meat intake and creating wildlife gardens. Maybe if we could all reconnect to nature, we would improve our mood, help local wildlife and reduce climate change all at the same time?

It may sound like a grand ambition, but it is the aim of the wellbeing sessions that are currently being supported by Avon Wildlife Trust. Every Thursday we run sessions at Bath City Farm called ‘Natural Pathways’. This group is for people who are currently struggling with their mental health and want to help make the City Farm a better place for wildlife. We also put on occasional wellbeing courses at Grow Wilder and other sites across the city, so keep an eye on our website. 

If you feel like you would benefit from attending any of these wellbeing courses or sessions, do please get in touch. By providing people with the tools and methods for people to connect with nature, we hope to show people not only the benefit that nature and wildlife can bring into our lives, but also just how important it is to protect it.