the natural way to beat loneliness
With more Covid restrictions being implemented in communities across the country, we look at the increasing problem of Loneliness and how Nature can help us feel less alone.
A recent mental health survey produced some concerning statistics regarding loneliness in the UK. 1 in 5 adults admitted to feeling lonely most days prior to lockdown, whilst 1 in 8 do not consider themselves to have any friends. Surprisingly, 60% of people who feel lonely are married.
Loneliness is something that we have perhaps associated more with the elderly or people who are confined to their homes, and of course these are a group who are at risk of loneliness.
However, during the pandemic the number of people falling into the category of being confined to their homes has increased. In addition, this group represents only a small number of those who admit to being lonely most of the time.
Not only does loneliness affect your ability to function mentally, but it also has physical effects on your body. For example, did you know that lonely people often feel colder, or that they are more prone to high blood pressure?
Loneliness does not just depend on how many friends or relationships you have, it is about how emotionally or socially connected you are to those people.
So as the longer winter evenings approach and we head into possibly more local restrictions that restrict our social contact, we ask: How can nature help to support those around us who really are experiencing the negative effects of loneliness?
how nature can help
We know that simply being outside in the fresh air and in green spaces can make us feel better, but it actually goes much deeper and further than this.
If we spend time in green space it offers a change of environment that can improve our mood and make us feel better. It gives us something to think about, and fresh air and physical exercise are a great combination for improving mental wellbeing.
But if we start to notice what is around us and how that world interacts and adapts to change then we really do start to feel a part of something much bigger. We start to understand our place in the world; how we can impact the world around us and become more a part of it. We begin to connect with nature.
Spending time outside in green spaces starts to release dopamine (the happy hormone) into our system and promotes feelings of wellbeing.
ideas to help combat loneliness in nature
Volunteering is a really great way to spend time outside connecting with nature and interacting with others. There are lots of community projects across the country that offer different opportunities.
Farm Garden offer volunteer placements in social gardens and farms; offering a chance to help vulnerable young people as well as getting up close to nature and animals outdoors.
Volunteering and giving back promotes feelings of self-esteem and confidence and it also connects us to others who share common goals. This is a great way to reduce feelings of loneliness.
2. learn something new
Why not learn to do something new outdoors? There are still lots of courses running and available to do outside. These offer the chance to still meet up face to face, but socially distanced for safety.
How about trying foraging, such as learning how to identify mushrooms or a little more about edible plants? There are lots of foraging companies to choose from. We use Foraging Course Company as they cover the Midlands and East Anglia, but there are many other great courses to attend.
Why not follow a couple on social media? @foraged.by.fern on Instagram is a really informative resource and will supply you with great ideas and recipes to keep you foraging throughout the year.
Learning to identify the power of plants and trees opens up a whole new world on your doorstep and collecting them and turning them into something edible really can become addictive. It deepens the connection with the outdoor world and helps to reduce feelings loneliness.
For something a little more physical you could do a hedge laying course or learn the art of dry stone walling? In the summer you could even start making your own charcoal. The possibilities are endless.
3. get creative
If you fancy doing something a bit more creative, then why not check out Flowers from the Farm? They are a collective of independent flower suppliers who are all growing British flowers. Many flower farms offer a range of courses or hands on activities or can give you ideas and inspiration on how to grow your own British flowers.
Learning more about the flora and fauna on your doorstep helps to reinforce the links with the outside world and nothing looks prettier than a bunch of wild flowers or even better some flowers that you have grown yourself. They will brighten up your home and plants and flowers bring life into your living environment. Having a bright, cheery and fresh space to live makes us feel better about ourselves and less alone.
If you are feeling a little more adventurous, why not join a local gardening club? You can do this in person or virtually. These communities of like-minded people can’t wait to share their passion and knowledge for all things garden related. They are often really friendly and welcoming and a great way to build connections.
Walking is good for a number of reasons and by using Ordnance Survey maps or an app like Komoot you can discover new places to visit nearby. You could join a local Ramblers Association, a running group or one of the many local walking groups, from Nordic Walking to Fell Walking. They can be a really good way to explore, meet new people and share the experience of walking and being outside.
Park exercise groups who do everything from Boot Camps to Pilates can also be great places to connect with nature and with others. Even in the winter months, the exhilaration of exercising outside builds resilience, reduces cortisol (stress hormone) and increases serotonin (feelings of wellbeing). It will help to build immune systems and overall health, giving us more energy, motivation and feelings of positivity.
5. nature webcams
For some inspiration in your home, how about watching the Wildlife Trusts’ webcams? They bring nature into your home. From puffins to ospreys, from kittiwakes to barn owls, you really can experience nature from the comfort of your own home.
Nature cams are ideal for those who perhaps find getting outside more challenging and can really bring the outside world alive. When following wildlife webcams you really have no idea what you will see next, but they offer a bird's-eye view of the world.
This may inspire you to start to identify nature in your own garden or on a walk. Why not grab a pair of binoculars and see what you can observe nearby? Try keeping notes or records of what you observe. It may surprise you just how many species there are in trees and gardens that you can observe near your home.
These are just a few ideas and, of course, walking, exercising and getting out into nature can all help combat feelings of being alone. A trip to the shops can still combine a stroll through the park or a glance up at the trees that you pass; it’s amazing what is going on all around us that we often don’t notice.
There is a HUGE big world outside and we are all a part of it. Loneliness is not about a lack of people in your life, it’s about a lack of connection. That is where nature can really make a difference.
So if you know someone who is lonely or feeling isolated, human contact is still a really important and valuable way to combat this. But remember that nature and the outdoors is there 24/7; always changing, always with something new to discover or offer and free for us to enjoy.