As someone who likes to potter around outside for hours while I write and watch the world go by, I’ve had to adjust drastically to my new lockdown routine. I describe my writing style as “immersive storytelling” – I go out and write about what I see to inspire other people to connect with their local wildlife. Over the past few weeks, it’s safe to say that I’ve struggled to stay creative. Although the restrictions are starting to ease in various locations, it is still difficult to get the access to nature that we all want and need.
It has been proven that being in green space benefits all aspects of our wellbeing. In 2018, a team from the University of East Anglia studied how the health of people living in urban areas compared to those who had more access to green spaces. They found that spending more time in nature “reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stress and high blood pressure”.
While cooped up indoors, I began to think of ways to stay connected to nature despite having to spend the majority of my time away from it. I’ve found that one of the best ways to do this is by bringing it indoors. I don’t mean catching birds or dragging in trees, but gathering small mementos. I’m lucky enough to live by the coast and I make a habit of collecting natural objects that I find on my daily walks. Together with other bits and pieces that I’ve collected from different habitats over time, I’ve made a nature table in my home that brightens up a room and provides a bit of wildness while I’m indoors.
Whatever habitats you have access to, there will be something that would make a good addition to a nature table. The great thing about wildlife is that everyone has a different relationship with it. My favourite things to collect are animal skulls – a male roe deer skull is pride of place on my nature table. Every item jogs a different memory in my mind. As well as being pretty to look at, a nature table is great for other senses too. I enjoy the tactile textures of frosted sea glass and rough sea urchin shells. Simply picking up these objects lifts my mood.
Author and illustrator of “The Wild Remedy” Emma Mitchell has struggled with anxiety and depression for most of her life, but insists that nature plays a huge part in helping her feel better. In a recent Instagram TV upload she shared the surprising healing power of plants for improving mental health. Plants produce oils called phytoncides which help the plant fight pathogens, but these same oils can benefit us too. When we inhale or touch these oils, our blood pressure, pulse rate and levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) go down. These small reductions can help us feel more relaxed and lift our mood. As well as house plants and garden flora, this also works with pots of supermarket herbs on the windowsill!
While plants appeal to our senses of smell and touch, one of the best senses for exploring nature is sound. A study at King’s College London found that listening to natural sounds such as birdsong improves mental wellbeing for over four hours. Recording snippets of audio on a phone during a daily walk is a great way to bring nature inside. Whether it’s woodland birdsong or crashing waves, natural sounds provide a relaxing background soundscape and, in my case, inspire creative thinking. For writers, it’s also useful to record any thoughts and observations you have while outside, so the details are fresh when you come to write them down later.
For those who can’t leave the house but have access to a garden, setting up some feeders will encourage more birds to visit and fill the air with their songs and calls. Another option is the brilliant Birdsong Radio app from the RSPB. This was launched after the huge success of the single “Let Nature Sing”, which for those who haven’t heard is a musical arrangement of some of Britain’s most loved but also threatened birds. As well as providing peaceful background noise, it’s a great tool for learning different bird calls. To listen to what specific species sound like, the RSPB website has small recordings on each bird’s profile.
The lockdown has forced us to change our usual routines and this has certainly brought its challenges. However, there is great enjoyment to be found in aligning ourselves to nature’s slower pace and exploring our local surroundings more closely. Despite the uncertainty, nature provides an opportunity to look after ourselves.
This article was originally published on Bloom in Doom magazine as part of my role as Nature Editor.