Bring the outdoors in for peace of mind


Recently I finished my postgraduate studies in Positive Psychology.

Positive Psychology is the science of human wellbeing and thriving.

Instead of concentrating on our negative qualities it focuses on developing our strengths and the characteristics that increase resilience, mental wellbeing, physical health and life satisfaction. It’s fascinating stuff!

One area I find particularly interesting is the effect of nature on our health. Scientists have explored how much contact with nature (or the absence of contact) effects our wellbeing.

Turns out, it’s a lot!

Studies show that exposure to plants or living close to nature is good for your well being.

It is proven to reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, regulate stress, increase immunity, induce relaxation and boost mood.

Biophilia hypothesis is the theory that humans have an innate connection to nature having spent our entire evolutionary history, up until the last 200 years or so, immersed in nature and reliant on understanding the natural environment for survival.

As industrialisation and technology changed our way of life, the amount of time spent in nature drastically decreased.

The majority of people in the world now live in urban environments and spend 90 percent of their days inside, disconnected physically and psychologically from nature.

I feel extremely grateful to live in this environmentally diverse and strikingly beautiful area where we have few barriers to getting a daily nature fix, whether it’s going for a surf, mountain biking, bushwalking or spending time in the garden, we in the Southwest are truly blessed!

A few years ago, I attended a retreat in Bali where I was introduced to the practice of mindfulness.

One exercise involved slowly and consciously walking through the garden, taking time to ponder each plant, appreciate the foliage patterns, design of the flowers, notice the breeze on my skin, the spongy moss under my feet…

This intentional journey really focussed my attention on the present, on what was immediately around me, what I could see, smell, touch and feel, and the experience forever changed the way I bush walk.

It is my habit now to use all my senses to observe as much of the plant life, noises and smells as I can when walking in the forest.

I love being able to walk the Ten Mile Brook walk trail from home to the Rotary Park and enjoy a coffee amongst the trees and birdlife before walking back along the heritage trail.

It’s a magical journey that always lifts my spirits and my feelings of gratitude for living on Wadandi Boodja.

Mindful bushwalking is something that you can do on your own, with your fur baby or with others.

As you walk, focus your awareness on your surroundings, the bush (or beach or garden) around you.

Notice the smell of the wet leaves, the feel of the sand, the sound of the birds, the intricate pattern of a flower, the texture of the bark, the new growth on a burnt tree…

When you’re being mindful in nature, you’re being fully present in the moment and the mental health benefits are remarkable.

If outdoor activities are not really your thing, just being exposed to plants at home can make a difference.

I work in a local nursery and have witnessed the house plant trend explosion first-hand (it’s a global movement apparently, triggered by millions of people in lockdown in city apartments).

Green thumbs are developing on people not previously into plants.

I’ve heard many exclaim that despite no previous interest in gardening, they can’t stop buying indoor plants!

I know I can’t seem to leave the nursery without a new leafy house mate and my living room is starting to look like a jungle.

Not only do my indoor plants look amazing, just the process of caring for plants, watching them grow and learning how to help them thrive is good for your mental health.

Many people also describe gardening as a form of mindfulness and I absolutely agree.

Maintaining attention on a task, (like pruning, watering and repotting) and taking time to really notice and appreciate your plants can be very peaceful.

An added bonus of indoor plants is they also filter and remove unhealthy air-borne microbes and toxins.

Just one plant can improve air quality by 25 percent!

Spending time with plants, or in any natural environment, is an easy way to lift your spirits and is accessible for everyone.

I highly recommend it!

MINDFUL Margaret River is an alliance of professionals, agencies, community members and the AMR Shire working to promote health & wellbeing.

JACQUI Barnsley has lived in Margaret River with her husband and two sons for 10 years.

She has spent over 27 years working in various human service roles, most recently with Just Home Margaret River, assisting people experiencing homelessness and housing stress. Jacqui is the contact person for Suicide Prevention Margaret River and has recently joined the Mindful Margaret River taskforce.

First published in the Augusta Margaret River Mail 17 August 2021

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