#12DaysOfKindmas

19 December, 2020

Being kind to ourselves by engaging with nature’s winter wonders

Enjoying special moments in nature is one way we can be kind to ourselves.

Our Advocacy Manager and registered occupational therapist, Louise O’Leary, explores how our mental health and wellbeing can benefit from nature’s winter wonders.

Enjoying winter nature

Enjoying winter nature

The value of nature in supporting our physical and mental health has been emphasised and perhaps more appreciated now than ever before. As winter progresses, opportunities to be outdoors may lessen or at least change for many of us, but there are still many ways to appreciate and engage with nature for the benefit of our wellbeing.

As with all seasons, winter provides its own special moments of natural beauty to enjoy, whether that’s spotting a robin out your window, crunching through leaves on a crisp morning walk, or appreciating the first frost on the grass. Here are some ideas we hope might be useful to help you enjoy and benefit from nature this winter.

Wrapping up and getting outdoors

Wrapping up and getting outdoors

The old adage, “there’s so no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”, is heard frequently, highlighting the importance of staying active outdoors. This approach has been heralded in countries with far harsher and darker winters than our own, such as Norway, as an effective approach protecting physical and mental health over the winter.

It remains essential for our good health that we get time outdoors in the daylight and fresh air when we can. In winter, this may take a bit more willpower than during the summer months, but the benefits remain the same.

Wrapping up in proper walking shoes, warm layers and rain-gear, and, if possible, prioritising a time during sunlight hours to get outside for a stroll or visit to a local park or woodland; this may be additionally important for those of us spending much more time than usual in our homes. Looking at your routine and planning how you’ll do this will make it more likely to happen; for example, set a goal to get outside for a 30 minute walk over a lunchbreak, or plan a trip to the local park on a weekend morning.

Gardening during the winter months

Gardening during the winter months

Gardening appears to have been taken up by many as a new hobby with lots of positive outcomes. The act of nurturing something, the sensory elements it involves, and the general sense of pleasure and achievement it provides can all have a positive effect on our mental health. There are still many gardening activities - such as planting winter bulbs, taking care of beds, growing indoor herbs or tending to indoor plants - which can be enjoyed during the winter months. For tips and inspiration over winter, see the Grow It Yourself campaign

Enjoying the birds

Enjoying the birds

Encouraging birds to visit your garden or outdoor space if you have it, with feeders or bird-baths, is also a mutually beneficial activity to consider. You can also support Bird Watch Ireland with some bird-watching by contributing to its Irish Garden Bird Survey. This citizen science survey needs people around the country to keep track of how many different bird species visit their garden every week.

Connecting virtually

Connecting virtually

While it might not be possible to visit all the outdoor spaces you enjoy, there are ways to see the natural wonders of the world from the comfort of your sitting room. These include the Royal Parks in London and Central Park in New York, which both have online tours, and virtual tours of sites such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Maine’s Acadia National Park offered by the United States National Park Service. Closer to home, Dublin Zoo has live webcams operating so you can check in with the residents.

You can listen to bird song and other nature sounds through this interactive soundscape, or, if you have a smartphone, tune into other nature sounds that help you to relax; for example, using one of the numerous apps that are available.

Finding an opportunity for learning

Finding an opportunity for learning

We know that having time to develop personal interests and enjoy hobbies and recreation are important for sustaining good mental health. There are different hobbies and outlets you might be interested in at this time of year. Taking time to learn about the natural world, such as keeping an eye out for wildlife documentaries on television or learning about ways to live more sustainably, may be a beneficial use of your time. Similarly, trying indoor crafts that use natural materials may be very pleasurable at this time of year, such as making your own winter wreath or winter foliage display

Including natural elements in your workplace

Including natural elements in your workplace

The spaces we live and work in can support or hinder our wellbeing and performance in daily life. We can benefit our wellbeing over winter by incorporating greenery and natural elements into our work environments. Even bringing one or two plants into your eyeline, or changing the aspect of your workspace to maximise natural light, can make a real difference to how you feel over the workday.

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