Winter getting you down? It’s time to reconnect with the outside world. Practice a little eco-therapy and feel the benefits to your physical and mental health

Don’t wait for the ‘right’ weather to go for a walk or a special occasion to visit a beach or garden. Eco-therapy is not a luxury. It’s essential to our physical and mental health. How often do you say, “I’m sad” when someone asks, “How are you?”. Chances are, you probably don’t answer honestly much of the time.

It’s just as unusual to hear people say they have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but the concept is familiar. We might say we don’t like winter, don’t feel right at this time of year or find it hard to get things done in the dark months. SAD is surprisingly common, though it can vary in severity. For some people, SAD can be incredibly debilitating, while others may be less impacted.

In the UK, winter can feel endless. Often starting in November, it can feel as though we don’t see the sunshine until March. Understandably, this can have an impact on our health and happiness.

More of us are feeling sad more often. That may be due to a better understanding of mental health and wellbeing, but it may also be down to our busy lifestyles - we never stop. Our struggle against the flow of the seasons is tiring and disheartening because it’s against our nature. We know spending time outside makes us feel better, but many of us have almost come to see excursions into nature as treats, when in fact they are essential maintenance.

Eco-therapy is the most natural thing in the world and like love, will only grow stronger the more it’s shared.

We're less connected to nature now than at any other time in human history, which is probably why we expect ourselves to be the same all year round. Everything else seems to function perfectly well day in day out, so why shouldn’t we? Well, because we’re not airlines or Internet browsers or fast food outlets. We’re animals, and like the rest of the animal kingdom, we have biorhythms that harmonise with the other flora and fauna in our environment, conducted by earth’s solar and lunar seasons.

Luckily nature has its own remedy for these feelings and this unnatural disconnect: eco-therapy. No more complicated than going outside just to be outside, eco-therapy is a free wellbeing practice with benefits to body and mind you will feel straight away.

How to get the most from eco-therapy

1. Do what you love

Eco-therapy simply means benefitting from time spent in or with nature. Surfing, mountain-biking and horse-riding are all eco-therapy; as are simpler pleasures like strolling around your favourite garden or misting your cacti. Give yourself permission to do something in or with nature that you enjoy and you’ll find yourself breathing more deeply, thinking more clearly and feeling more optimistic and productive.

2. Take a friend

Walking whilst talking multiplies the benefits to our health. We are exercising the body, mind and soul; working things out and walking them out. Being in nature is freeing, and as we walk side-by-side with another person, the difficulty of articulating challenging thoughts melts away amongst the soothing repetition of putting one foot in front of the other.

A friend needn’t be another person. A dog makes a brilliant walking companion. Strange as it might sound, even found objects such as smooth pebbles, winged seeds and patterned leaves can provide comfort and an imaginative springboard.

3. Notice things

If you look at the branches of trees in winter you’ll find the buds are already set; life is in their veins. In many cultures, winter is considered to be a time of withdrawal and creativity for humans too, a time to explore our thoughts and build our reserves, ready to regrow.

Recognising that nature is resting helps us accept our own need to rest. Noticing natural cycles and patterns calms us and helps us to feel gratitude for all that is beautiful and miraculous; rather than dwelling on things we cannot control, we begin to appreciate our small place in something large and nurturing.

4. Bring the outside in

You don’t have to be lumping around the countryside to benefit from nature. Eco-therapies can work just as well in our homes. By bringing the green indoors, you will make sure you interact with nature everyday, tending to it so that it thrives. The magical thing is that with each new leaf bud or bloom, a small surge of endorphins will flow through your veins, and you’ll thrive too. Through the humble act of caring for another living thing, we practice self-care and offset a little of our personal carbon footprint, contributing positively to the environment.

5. Share the love

Invite someone to join you on walks and runs, wild swims and mountain treks. Go camping or foraging together. And as your own plants grow, give cuttings as gifts, sell them at fairs or at the end of your garden. Eco-therapy is the most natural thing in the world and like love, will only grow stronger the more it’s shared.