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Helen McKenna

How connecting with nature aids wellbeing

The Woodland Trust this this month highlighted the benefits to health of being out of doors, leading to an article in The Guardian on 'forest bathing'. Ramsey resident Helen McKenna describes how connecting with nature aids her wellbeing:

As anyone who lives on the Isle of Man will no doubt experience, I have been to many of the glens, beaches and rugged hills since I was born here. However, it is only at 27 years old that I’ve felt truly grateful for how picturesque and unique it really is.

This summer, I aim to rekindle a past hobby that I’ve somewhat rejected for a while and integrate it with a new one.

Walking is something I used to do frequently in my late teens and early twenties, not only because I am yet to pass my driving test and didn’t fancy the bus, but because I like the feelings it evokes, both during and after reaching my destination. 

Mainly, it declutters my constantly chattering thoughts and worries. 

I didn’t even realise that when I’ve gone into a glen or a bit of woodland to have a calm-down or a cry, I’ve actually been forest bathing.

This is a really good thing to do and I’m so glad it’s getting more recognition, because it can help a lot of people if they feel lost/sad/anxious, and generally it’s proven to be good for your health, both physically and mentally.

For many years, I used to feel overwhelmed and, in some ways, controlled by my sadness and anxiety, but there was one particular year that was difficult in many ways: when I was 22.

It was summer and I was walking towards Onchan past Summerhill Glen, which is a gemstone hidden away from the bustle of Douglas. I almost ambled by as usual, but on this particular day I felt a sense of panic and something which I think a lot of young adults go through at some stage in their life: really uncertain about who I was and what I wanted to achieve in life, down in the dumps. I felt self-loathing and annoyance that my depression and anxiety were ruining what was a beautiful summer’s day.  

I decided to listen to the little voice which eventually piped up out of all the other negative ones, and went and sat in the glen on a bench. I cried for a little while, but, afterwards, I listened to the sound of the trees, birds and distant murmur of traffic and felt a great relief.

I was calmer and able to remember that I’m just one person in this huge world trying to get by in life, that there are many others who feel this way and it’s just one step on the journey to wherever I’m going.  

Now, I try to get some time in the outdoors, even if it’s just for 10 minutes, either in a glen or other type of leafy, green patch, to have some reflective time to face anything that comes my way.

Forest bathing might sound like you have to lie down and close your eyes, but it can be as simple as sitting for a couple of minutes and listening, hearing and generally being aware of the natural surroundings.

We can get caught-up in the rush of day-to-day life and put aside how we’re really feeling because we don’t want to appear self-indulgent or stupid.

Holidays are temporary, but self-care is something which is ongoing and constantly changes as you grow, much like the plants and trees the Isle of Man is lucky enough to have in abundance. 

  • Helen McKenna has worked in broadcast journalism. She is performing at the Gaiety Theatre in July in The Service Players’ production of ‘Communicating Doors’ by Alan Ayckbourn.

 Guardian article

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