Nature was a lifeline for me during lockdown (A personal blog)
A personal blog by Kate Richardson
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme is 'Nature'. To mark the week, Team AWARE have been reflecting on the power of connecting with nature for our own mental health. For me, connecting with nature has been a lifeline over the past year.
My first blow from the COVID pandemic was a cancelled trip to Berlin in April 2020 where I had planned to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday. After months of buzzing WhatsApp groups, eagerly planning visits to the city’s top restaurants and bars and scouring Instagram for beautiful scenic spots to explore, it was gutting to have to cancel the holiday.
In the days and weeks that followed, nations locked down and intensive care units filled up. It became quickly apparent that a cancelled weekend away was going to be the least of our worries. We became confined to our houses and like many others, I began to experience unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety. I spent my days working from home for AWARE’s Communications Team, as our support groups were suspended one-by-one and my colleagues and I frantically tried to adapt our services to support our clients online. The mental health impact of this was going to be vast.
My evenings were spent nervously glued to Channel 4 News (often with a glass of wine in hand), as my mum, my partner and I tried to wrap our heads around the surreal situation unfolding before our eyes. The world appeared to be coming apart at the seams.
It was during this time that connecting with nature on my daily walks around the park near our house, became a lifeline to me; the lake in the centre of it, my happy place. As the pandemic evolved at what seemed like the speed of light, sitting by the lake and walking around the park’s fields, life seemed to slow down, like someone had pressed pause and all that existed were the intoxicating sights and sounds of nature.
I found myself staring at the sun’s rays dancing on the surface of the water like glitter. I started noticing birdsong everywhere I went as if it were some strange exotic sound I’d never heard before. I watched intently as a pair of grey doves nested in a tree nearby. The nature around me felt elevated as if it had been turned up a dial.
I would walk up to the back fields, where the stunning views span from the Mourne Mountains in the south to Cavehill in the North. I remember breathing in the fresh air, as my dog Lola chased birds and rolled playfully around the grass, blissfully unaware of ‘R-rates’ and lockdowns. Here there were no alarming news bulletins or zoom calls or the pinging of a hundred WhatsApp notifications. Just nature. Just stillness. Just, being. When the world leaves us feeling adrift, nature has a beautiful way of anchoring us to the present moment.
I found it so calming and reassuring that no matter what was happening on the news that day, no matter what new peril we humans were finding ourselves in, nature seemed to remain unfazed. I could come to this sacred place and find everything the same as it was the day before. The tranquil lake still sparkling under the spring sun and the vivid green fields still rippling in the wind. In those moments, I somehow felt simultaneously connected to and detached from the world. I will never forget the solace nature brought me in those early days of lockdown. It kept my head above water and I’m forever grateful for that.
As restrictions have eased, I have spent a lot of time hiking recently in the Mourne Mountains; another happy place for me (once I get to the top that is, the ascent is spent huffing and complaining and melting the heads of those who made the mistake of hiking with me). I have spent more time outside in nature in general recently and have even started cold water swimming in the freezing sea at Helen’s Bay and Bangor!
It has been hard to stay optimistic throughout the pandemic as goalposts keep changing and news of new waves and variants flood our newsfeeds. My advice would be to turn to nature for your good news, put your phone down once in a while, get outside and notice the beauty and resilience of our natural world.
Especially now, in spring, there’s a lot of beauty unfolding around us (ignoring the rain torturing us currently – seriously it’s May!). My house plants are growing new leaves, the nights are getting longer, the air is filled with the smell of BBQs being lit by optimistic neighbours; I have a hopeful sense that brighter days are coming.
The word nature is taken from the Latin ‘natura’, meaning ‘birth’ or ‘be born’. In a way, I think the pandemic has made a lot of us feel reborn, experiencing and appreciating things as if for the first time, no longer taking simple things like a good cup of coffee or the sounds of a friend’s laughter, for granted. Perhaps we will go into this new post-COVID world with a newfound appreciation for the nature on our doorstep, I know I will.