What you need to know about the healing power of woodlands from a psychologist’s perspective in Mental Health Awareness Week
By Dr Lesley Edwards, Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Woodlands are magical, mysterious and ancient places and are home to many meaningful myths and legends. People have used woodlands to heal and find a private space and escape to recover from stresses of both everyday life and more deep-rooted issues over thousands of years.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (May 10-16 2021), sponsored by mental.health.org. This year’s theme, “Connect with Nature”, was chosen because being in nature is known to be an effective way of tackling mental health problems, especially this year in a pandemic.
Looking after ourselves is crucial and whilst many people feel that self-care could be seen by others as selfish, it actually is a necessity to stop, take a break and allow ourselves the time to look after ourselves and to “just be”. Our Mental health is precious and we can all be vulnerable in these times of restrictions and major difference to our daily lives and routines.
Woodlands and walking in them, or even just spending time in them, can allow us to look after ourselves, take pleasure in something simple. We can allow ourselves to really take the time to experience what is around us, take notice of something other than the four walls of home or office and benefit from the distraction and beauty that is out there. Our mental health is being challenged in so many ways, so the opportunity to do something different can have huge benefits. There has been guidance recently offered by the British Psychological Society (BPS) outlining the potential of combining therapy with spending time in the great outdoors, further underlining the benefits of being in nature and woodlands.
There are many stories out there of individuals and families benefiting from being in woodlands and noting the positive effect on mental health and on themselves. Here is a photo from my childhood (I am in the middle in case you can’t recognise me from the photo above) and it brings back so many memories of walking every Sunday in the “up and down hills” of our local woods. This makes me think with so much feeling of those carefree days and how much benefit we all got as a family being in the woods together, exploring, searching for little bugs and special fairy homes.
I’d like to invite everyone who reads this blog to send in a photo of your own special wood, woodland or tree and what memories it triggers and to describe how it can have such effects on mental health. Please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line woods and trees personal stories.
I look forward to continuing this blog and exploring together the relationship between woodlands and mental health – the benefits, the dangers, reflecting on what has been learned, and what can be gained.