Today’s Monday Matters post is a little different in that it focuses on a book which I’ve recently started reading after hearing Chris Packham praising it on Springwatch last month. ‘The Wild Remedy – how nature mends us’ is the published diary of a naturalist, writer and illustrator called Emma Mitchell who has found herself better able to manage her mental health since she moved to live in the English Countryside and began to spend more time in nature.
Emma suffers from depression and finds that she particularly struggles in the winter months when the light is poor and the few colours to be seen outdoors are particularly drab. She describes her battle with Seasonal Affective Disorder and talks about how she has to force herself to interact with nature in any way she can in an attempt to lift her spirits. Her diary documents her highs and lows throughout the year and her experiences of the natural world in the different seasons. I have found her prose to be a complete joy to read and over the last few days I’ve devoured her writing and delighted in her photographs, drawings and watercolour work.
Whilst out on her walks, Emma absorbs herself in her surroundings and seeks out the beauty of flora and fauna and seasonal changes. She often collects wild flowers, leaves, berries and evidence of birds who have visit the area in the form of different feathers or pieces of eggshell. She also takes photographs of the scenery as evidence of the simple but wonderful sights of her visits to a range of natural environments. This immersion is a kind of mindful practise and one which helps her to become rejuvenated and happier.
When Emma returns home, she is able to study her finds and can search for them in one of her treasured wild flower books to learn more about a particular species. She also regularly makes photographic records so she is able to enjoy the beauty of these natural objects again and again. Emma is also a very creative person and she often produces detailed line sketches or small watercolour paintings which she finds very soothing for her mind. She includes her art work and photographs throughout her diary as a pictorial record of the nature calendar.
In the introduction to the book, the author describes a variety of research which has considered the effects of nature on the body and the mind. Walking in green spaces and observing natural landscapes has been shown to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression by causing a drop in the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in our bodies and releasing seretonin (the feel good chemical) into our brains. Also blood pressure decreases and pulse rates slow which has a positive effect on your physical and mental health.
Further discussion of recent scientific research shows numerous other ways that being in close contact with nature is good for our health. For example, many plant species produce compounds and oils known as phytoncides and when these are inhaled, they have a positive impact on our immune, hormonal, circulatory and nervous systems. We don’t have to actively go around sniffing different greenery either. Just been amongst trees and bushes regularly is enough to enjoy these health benefits. If you add in a good walk, especially in the sunshine, you will likely find your mood lifting due to raised seretonin levels and the release of feel good endorphins from the exercise.
I’ve read almost all of Emma’s book over the last few days and I’m looking forward the last few chapters. Her diary entries are beautifully written and you really feel as though you are there with her due to her delightful descriptions. Her field photographs and flat lay shots of her nature finds are so inspiring and are guaranteed to make you want to take out your camera to create some similar images.
Emma is also an illustrator and an array of line drawings and hand painted watercolours are included throughout the pages. Although I couldn’t match her art work, I am keen to use my pencils, fineliners and paints to have a go at creating my own records of nature spotted within my back garden and whilst out on my walks.
I’ve mentioned before the meditative and calming affects that drawing and painting can have and how this helps the body and the mind. Emma describes how the repetitive process of creating her nature images and not focusing too much on the results is as much of a boost for her as the walk itself.
I highly recommend ‘The Wild Remedy’ if you want to learn more about how nature can support good mental health or if, like me, you have a keen interest in the natural world. Although I find that I need medication to keep my depression and anxiety at bay and that regular talking therapies are required to help me learn strategies for managing my condition on a day-to-day basis, I think nature has so much to offer too and also plays its part in my mental wellbeing. I make sure I either go out for a walk in the park or local woodland each day or spending time tending to my garden and I encourage you to find the time to do the same.