Mā te taiao, kia whakapakari tōu oranga. Building connections with nature and the land can enhance our mental health and wellbeing.
It's easy to forget to look after your wellbeing especially when life is busy or during a time of sickness. Regularly spending time in nature can improve your mental and physical health and reduce stress and anxiety.
For Māori, everything in the world has a ‘mauri’ or life force and when our natural resources are not cared for it weakens their mauri. This affects mental health and wellbeing. Building connections with nature and the land can help balance the different parts of our health – physical (taha tinana), mental (taha hinengaro), spiritual (taha wairua) and family (taha whānau).
Image credit: 123rf
Below are some tips on how you can get into nature and bring nature into your life.
1. Get outside
Start by opening your own door and heading outside. Take your lunch or cup of coffee with you, catch a few rays of sunshine and appreciate what's going on around you. Even in an urban area there are likely to be parks and benches, or areas with birds, trees and flowers to appreciate.
2. Practice mindfulness
Make time to go for a walk and surround yourself in nature. This could be a gentle walk in the garden, the park, a forest or along the coast. Remove distractions like your phone or your computer and try to clear your mind. Listen to the sounds of the birds, see the colours of the trees, watch insects go about their daily routines. If you are feeling stressed or anxious you might like to take time to breathe and try a calming activity to focus on what is around you:
List to yourself ...
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can hear
- 3 things you can touch
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste.
2. Keep some greenery around you
Plant a small vegetable or herb garden or a few of your favourite flowers. If you’re tight on space try a vertical garden, a hanging basket or planting in pots. Gardeners are generally happy to share their experience and resources so if a neighbour has a pretty garden, have a chat about how they have achieved it and ask their advice. You might get a plant cutting or a bulb or two to get you started.
Keep some flowers or a few pot plants around your home or work. These don't need to be expensive – take a walk around your neighbourhood and make an arrangement out of wildflowers or branches.
3. Volunteer in nature
Find a volunteering group near you. Many volunteer groups work on planting trees, weeding, predator trapping, beach clean-up days and many more fun and useful activities. As well as improving your physical strength, you can meet like-minded people and together you can learn how to be a kaitiaki (guardian) of the environment.
Image credit: 123rf
4. Feed the birds
Hang a bird feeder, or an apple from a tree. Put it somewhere you can see it from inside and enjoy watching the birds feeding. You could get a book from the library to see which species are visiting your garden. You could also take part in the annual New Zealand Garden Bird Survey.
5. Enjoy the night sky
When the weather’s right, spend some time at night looking at the stars; you could learn about the constellations (there's an app for that!) or learn about maramataka (the different phases of the moon). See if you can find Matariki, when the time is right, and you can even see the Tahu-nui-a-rangi (southern lights) from some parts of Aotearoa.
5. Learn about Aotearoa's beautiful wildlife
Can you recognise a kōwhai, mānuka or pōhutukawa tree? Do you know the difference between a kauri snail and a flax snail? Can you spot a tūi or a pīwakawaka near you? Do you know where godwits travel?
Go for a bush walk and see Aotearoa's beautiful and unique wildlife. You could take pictures or use an identification app or book. When you get home, learn about the different plants, animals and insects you found along the way.
6. Visit a wildlife/nature attraction
See what's available nearby to do as an activity. Take a whānau member or friend with you for company and brighten their day as well. Is there a bird sanctuary or wildlife reserve in your area? Visit the botanical gardens or a display garden open to the public. Lots of parts of Aotearoa have gardens to visit for pleasure and inspiration.
7. Replace driving with walking or cycling
Do you really need to drive to wherever you’re going, especially if it’s close? Look to see if there is a park, reserve or some quiet green streets that you can walk or cycle through to get to your destination.
Ignite Online NZ support to strengthen wellbeing
Find a predator control project near you PredatorFreeNZ, NZ
Let nature in DOC, NZ
Thriving with nature Mental Health Foundation, UK
iNaturalist NZ Mātaki Taiao, NZ
Nights in the Maramataka Te Papa, NZ
Te Whare Tapa Whā Māori model of health and wellbeing
- Nature and nurture – Connecting conservation and wellbeing Natlib, NZ, 2020