How nature can nurture your mental health and relationships

How nature can nurture your mental health and relationships

Woodland walk  - Zsuzsanna Bird

As we mark World Mental Health Day, Stephen Maginn, from Relate NI, explains why connecting with nature is so important for nurturing our mental health and relationships.

As humans, we have an inborn tendency to focus on and affiliate with other living things. That’s why human relationships are at the heart of a thriving society. Not only do they give our lives meaning, but healthy relationships are the essential building blocks for our health and wellbeing.

It’s the same reason that human-nature relations can also be beneficial, and lead to improvements in mood, cognitive function and physical as well as mental wellbeing. Despite the importance of both, spending time in nature and on our relationships can often be collateral damage to a busy modern-day lifestyle.

Here are some of the ways you can re-discover nature while nurturing your relationships and mental wellbeing.

Nature & Relationship Maintenance

Carrying out regular relationship maintenance is integral to healthy relationships, which in turn are fundamental to our wellbeing. If you feel that your relationship is under pressure, the key is often learning how to communicate effectively. Try to make sure there is a time and place set aside to explore any issues and feelings that you may have. Your local park or nature reserve may provide a neutral playing field to discuss your feelings openly while benefitting from the calming effects of a brisk walk or wheel in nature and some fresh air.

While spending meaningful time together is important, spending time apart is also key to a healthy relationship and emotional wellbeing. Nature can be the perfect backdrop for you to take time out to do the things you love – cycling, fishing, reading, crocheting or whatever that may be!

Couple walking in the park (c) Relate

Couple walking in the park (c) Relate 

Park chat (c) Relate NI

The Importance of Play

Did you know that play helps children cope with stress & anxiety & fosters resilience, enabling children to better deal with challenges? And the natural environment is the perfect sandbox to play in!

Spending time outdoors together with your children allows you to be there & be reliable to them. They can enjoy your full attention [and you can enjoy theirs] away from TVs, phones & other devices. As parent’s, we often want to share advice with our children but it’s important to make space to be an active listener as well.

By helping our children develop an emotional connection with the natural world at a young age, we may be helping to instil in them life-long advocacy for nature, something which cannot be understated in the climate and biodiversity crises that we are living in. 

Family enjoying nature (c) Relate

Family enjoying nature (c) Relate 

Loneliness & Isolation

Loneliness & isolation is common to experience for many in our communities, one which has been compounded by the pandemic. Spending time in nature doesn’t have to be as adventurous as a strenuous hike or sea swim. Finding a bench in a local park to dwell in can provide the opportunity to meet passersby, including local wildlife such as birds and squirrels! If you are lucky you may even spot the native and elusive red squirrel.

You could even go one step further and commit to volunteering for your local wildlife charity or cause. The relationships and connections we make with people through volunteering mean that giving back not only helps causes; it gives us a sense of belonging, makes us feel good about ourselves, and improves our own wellbeing.

People who have a network of people to get involved in meaningful activities with are also more likely to be healthy and happy.

LNLP Volunteers at Peatlands Park

LNLP Volunteers at Peatlands Park

Relationship with Self

The most important relationship that any of us have is our relationship with ourselves. After all, if you can’t love yourself – how are you going to love somebody else?

Of course, this is much easier said than done! There may be times when we feel emotionally unwell and unable to love ourselves.

In the short term, grounding techniques can be a helpful way to control feelings of panic by turning attention away from unhelpful thoughts, memories, or worries and refocusing on the present moment. The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is a great way to do this while taking in the details of the surrounding nature using your senses. Next time you are at your green or blue space, try to use the following questions to tune into small details that your mind might usually tune out, such as distant sounds of wildlife or the smell of nearby flora.

What are 5 things you can see?

What are 4 things you can feel?

What are 3 things you can hear?

What are 2 things you can smell?

What is 1 thing you can taste?

While these techniques do not take away the challenges we face they do help to settle us, so we are better equipped to manage our anxiety. However, If you are consistently experiencing these feelings, or notice you are not being kind to yourself, you should seek professional support. 

For more information on how to relieve the pressure on your relationships, visit Relieve The Pressure (

Man sitting on bench

(c) Matthew Roberts