Nature helps us feel energised when we’re low, restored when we’re overwhelmed and connected when we’re lonely. We often lose touch with this in our busy, tech-filled, modern lives.
That’s why we’re sharing three secrets to happiness in the forest so you can feel more connected to nature and people this winter. Based on neuroscience, advice from an expert researcher, and guidance from Mind.
1. Slow down and look after you
The Christmas craziness can feel overwhelming and often leads to burn-out by the new year. As we busy ourselves rushing from one thing to the next, we can forget to be present and enjoy the moment.
In contrast, nature seems to understand that the winter months are a time to slow down. Trees go into dormancy, which is similar to hibernation. We can take inspiration from, and comfort in, the peaceful atmosphere of the forest at this time.
Nature can help us to connect to our senses and bring our focus to the present moment. Developing a close relationship with nature improves our psychological wellbeing by reducing stress and improving our mood.
Plan in time to escape to the outdoors and connect with your senses:
- Be prepared: wrap up in a warm coat and waterproof shoes and head out into the forest
- Minimise distractions: turn your phone to silent and find a quiet spot just for you to enjoy
- Embrace the elements: can you feel the cool air on your cheeks, hear the wind in the tree canopy, feel the crunch of frost underneath your feet?
Follow our forest bathing guide or try forest bathing from home.
2. Start the new year with mindfulness
We often associate mindfulness with sitting still, but mindfulness techniques can be incorporated into activities such as walking, yoga and running.
Forests are the ideal destination for mindful movement as they’ve been shown to make physical activity feel easier and more enjoyable compared to working out indoors. They also provide much-needed distraction from fatigue, boost the immune system and help us to stay active longer. A perfect location to help you maintain a healthy and sustainable exercise routine for longer than the first two weeks of January!
Whether you’re walking, running, cycling or skipping through the forest, let your senses relax under the forest canopy and be filled with energy from the fresh, forest air.
- Leave the headphones and fitness tracker at home
- As you move through the forest, look out for objects or colours that remind you of Christmas.
- Focus on how each part of your body is moving. How does the ground feel beneath your feet? How are your arms moving? Are you tense or relaxed?
Whatever the weather, there are so many mindful ways to move in the forest.
3. Look out for others and for nature
Forests can help us connect with other people in small and simple ways. Dr Liz O’Brien, Head of the Social and Economic Research Group at Forest Research, has been researching how trees and forests can contribute to people’s health and wellbeing for fifteen years. She says:
Spending time in woodlands helps people develop social connections with others, and provides a wide range of sensory benefits as well as a chance to enjoy and observe seasonal changes in nature.
And showing kindness to others isn’t just good for their wellbeing. Research by Mind, the mental health charity, has shown that committing an act of kindness once a week over a six-week period is associated with an increase in personal wellbeing. Making others feel good, makes us feel good too!
Share the festive cheer with others:
- Smile at or say hello to someone as you pass them on your woodland walk. You might be the first person to smile at them that day and that small act of kindness could make a big difference to their wellbeing.
- Take a photo of something beautiful that captures your attention and send it to a friend or loved one to brighten up their day. Ask them to send you a photo on their next woodland walk too.
- Have a greener Christmas by making small changes to care for nature. From things to consider when choosing your Christmas tree to making your own decorations gifts, there are many surprising ways you can have a sustainable Christmas.