How does Nature Connection help stave off ‘the winter blues’?
Winter is typically the season when we start to feel low, as the darker days, the surge in illness and the often gloomy weather take their toll.
Did you know the 3rd Monday in January is dubbed “Blue Monday”? Named because we’re all cold, broke and riddled with guilt about failed New Year’s resolutions to be “better” people! (yawn).
I’m digging deep and calling on my resilience to dampen down the stress response. The daily walk is once again a lifesaver, but these days I do more than simply stomp to get my steps in and heart rate up.
I also allow myself enough time afterwards for some nature-inspired mindfulness. A slow and meandering wander, without any real destination in mind, merely basking in soft fascination at my surroundings. And definitely leave the headphones, dog and kids at home.
And yes, you can still adore your outdoors in winter, and I am confident that if you slow down and intentionally engage your senses (look, listen, feel and smell), you will notice winter beauty all around that you’d otherwise miss.
In fact, there are many reasons why being outdoors is actually more enjoyable in winter.
You won’t get hot and sweaty, for a start. There are usually fewer people around – and there are very few quiet places left so this is a real treat, and as the ground cover thins out less frequented areas of the forest become accessible. And the flash of vibrant colour from a flower or fungus or the luscious green patch of moss is so much more appreciated in winter.
Here are 5 easy ways to help you beat the winter blues with Nature Connection techniques to find peace in a frantic world.
Beat the winter blues with these 5 Nature Connection exercises
Before you set off…
I cannot overstate the importance of wrapping up warm, especially for the tasks outside further away from your own home. If you are cold, you won’t be able to relax into the experience. Wear comfortable clothes suitable for the weather and take two extra layers.
Ensure you also have a good rucksack or backpack and take with you:
- a sketchbook and/or journal
- a small, waterproof picnic mat (or a camping chair if getting down to ground level isn’t easy)
- a snack
- drinking water or a hot drink
- some tissues.
I recommend turning your phone to aeroplane mode so that you don’t receive calls or notifications, but you can still use it for photography tasks. If you decide to do this, please be sensible. Plot your route in advance and tell friends or family exactly where you’re planning to go, what time and for how long. Even with a phone, it is not a bad idea to tell someone else your plans before you leave. More so if you are “heading off the beaten track” and signal may be an issue.
Only head outdoors when you know you have enough daylight left to be safe. Allow yourself plenty of time, these walks and activities should be slow, intentional and immersive. Each experience is designed to be simple to follow and available to all, you don’t need any fancy kit or existing knowledge; these are everyday mindfulness techniques for beginners.
EXERCISE 1 – Noticing Beauty on a Forest Wander
Head out to your favourite woodland or forest. Walk into a quiet part, ideally an area that you are already familiar with, so that you feel safe, relaxed and at ease.
Notice the colours. Allow yourself to be drawn to touch whatever captures your interest and notice its texture, temperature and humidity.
If you get a chance, inhale the scent of some nearby moss deeply – you will probably be very pleasantly surprised as you breathe in the earthy aromas that will be particularly pungent on the underside.
You might also notice the fluffy or lace-like lichen growing on the branches and trunks of trees. Once you start noticing the intricacies of moss and lichen, you don’t stop. The slower you walk and the quieter you are, the more the natural world will accept you and the more beauty you will be shown.
Beauty is one of the 5 pathways to Nature Connection.
As you move through the landscape, take note of what colours, energies, and qualities you sense. What feelings do these evoke within you? How does your body feel? How does your heart feel?
EXERCISE 2 – Mindful Nature Photography
On a frosty, chilly but sunny winter morning head out early to walk around where you live. There really is no better time to get out with your camera! Engaging your senses is another recognised way to deepen your level of Nature Connection.
Are you early enough for the sunrise? Allow yourself the time to watch it without checking the time and feeling rushed. How do you feel as you watch it transform? Perhaps you notice the gorgeous yellow of winter jasmine, the intricacy of frosty cobwebs or your attention is drawn to what you hear? Listen to the bird song, stop for a while, and hear it. Engage your sense of imagination… what is being discussed? Don’t worry about identifying the chatter, just immerse yourself fully in the sounds.
When you feel relaxed and the chatter in the mind has eased, your childlike sense of fun and curiosity might really come alive. Experience the world around you in a new way by homing in on the minutiae.
Look through the lens of colour and then notice the textures, shapes and patterns in nature all around you. Take no more than 15 photos on your walk and take your time on each one. Enjoy creating some truly stunning photographs.
EXERCISE 3 – Mindful Garden Gratitude at Dusk
Just before dusk, wrap up and take a warm drink out into the garden. Find a quiet place to rest comfortably for fifteen minutes (or longer if you like).
Sit in quiet contemplation and notice nature putting itself to bed for the day. You might see bats taking to the sky and the birds might be singing their bedtime song. Perhaps it’s the opposite and you have hedgehog guests waking up?
Feel yourself settling down and quietening inside.
Think about the people who have contributed to your garden and reflect on how the plants and shrubs got there, and how you are now benefiting from their actions and existence. Take some time to connect with all that you have to be grateful for – in and outside of your garden.
There is no right or wrong with this, and your thoughts, feelings and reflections during this exercise will be personal to you.
EXERCISE 4 – Reflections and Intention Setting
Another mindfulness exercise that is wonderful for winter is mindful self-reflection with journaling. Head outside to increase feelings of calm and relaxation and enable ‘blue sky thinking’.
Connect with your feelings about the year that’s just ended, and the one that lies ahead. Be kind to yourself and focus on what’s made you proud, any transformations, support, both given and received. When considering the future year, focus on your dreams and wishes, however far away they seem right now.
This isn’t about creating yourself a massive ‘to-do list’. Winter is slow, cosy and gentle – so reflect this in your writing. This is an opportunity for reflection and intention setting but from the heart and body, rather than the thinking brain. We do not need to use our left brains for everything; this is the time to let it rest.
I like to use the prompt, “Winter is an opportunity for me to…”. Use a beautiful journal and revisit your writing from time to time.
EXERCISE 5 – Slow Mindful Movement Outdoors
How about exploring a mindful movement practice that you can do outside such as Qi Gong (pronounced Chee Gung)?
I recommend you do this mindful movement outside near trees, ideally pine or oak trees. Deeply inhale the pure, phytoncide-rich fresh air, and connect with the physical sensations in your body. Notice the feeling of the breath in your nostrils, the change in temperature on the way in vs on the exhale, and marvel at how it is keeping you alive. You are breathing nature’s nebuliser.
Introduce some mindful movement. It doesn’t have to be perfect Qi Gong, some simple stretches would be fine, but if you wanted you could follow a decent video on YouTube. All the while staying focused on the here and now, and if the mind wanders, accept that it is normal and gently bring your focus back.
Can you beat the Winter Blues with Nature Connection and Mindfulness?
There’s no doubt that winter can and does leave people feeling depressed, demotivated and withdrawn. You might have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? It seriously impacts people’s lives as they suffer from persistent low mood, lethargy and loss of interest in usual everyday activities.
Research has shown that one in fifteen people in the UK suffers from SAD, with scientific studies pointing to the lack of sunshine – vitamin D – as the culprit. This means levels of serotonin and melatonin drop and the body’s circadian rhythms are disrupted. So how can mindfulness make a difference?
By developing your sense of gratitude and building resilience through a regular mindfulness practice you are less harshly impacted by change and able to bounce back from difficult experiences faster. You spend more time in the present moment and less in the past or future, understanding the impermanence of everything in life and knowing periods of low mood will pass soon enough.
And a regular mindfulness-in-nature practice is capable of ‘rewiring’ the brain thanks to neurological plasticity.
Join me and beat the winter blues with Nature Connection
If any of this has tempted you into getting outdoors this winter I’d love to hear from you or see your photos. You absolutely can beat the winter blues with Nature Connection – I know because I used to suffer from SAD myself and now winter is my favourite season.
Seasonal Mindfulness Activity Guides
And here is a blog with 25 Nature Connection ideas, although not specific to a season, there are lots of goodies inside.
Connect on Socials
Join in with a Forest Bathing experience in and around Hampshire
Wrap up well and keep warm! All photos are my own.
With wintery warm wishes,