Over the past year of lockdowns and coronavirus restrictions, getting out into nature has been the saving grace for many. Even for those who live in busy cities, the daily stroll around the park has been a welcome break from the hours spent inside and staring at screens. As a nation, we’re becoming more and more aware of the benefits of fresh air, walking and nature for mental health and wellbeing. It’s no surprise, then, that many people find walking and nature a useful tool for coping with grief.
What are the benefits of walking for grief?
Improved mental health
We’ve all felt the difference in our mood after a brisk stroll in the sunshine, and the link between physical exercise and mental health are well documented. After a bereavement, however, it’s important to take things slowly and not expect to be back to your old exercise regime straight away. You may have days where you feel like walking for miles and others where you’d rather cuddle up on the sofa. Try starting slowly with a five minute walk one day, and slowly increasing until you reach your comfort level.
Walking with others can ease loneliness
While restrictions have prevented much social contact over the past year, walking has remained a safe and healthy way to meet with friends. Even as restrictions ease, walking with others can help you to form connections with those you haven’t spoken to since before the death. As well as this, walking side by side often facilitates difficult conversations that can be hard to approach face to face.
Better sleep quality
Real-world studies have shown that walking 10,000 steps (somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half’s walk) a day can dramatically improve sleep quality and also help you sleep for longer. Many Cruse clients tell us that they have trouble sleeping following a bereavement, slowly trying to increase your daily exercise (when you feel strong enough to leave the house) is just one way to get your sleep back on track.
Opportunities to visit meaningful locations
If the person who died had a favourite park, tree or even street then getting out and walking to their favourite spot can be a meaningful and cathartic experience. Organising a walk, hike or long-distance ramble around a loved one’s most treasured locations is a great way to remember the person who’s died.
What are the benefits of nature for grief?
Nature can help you feel connected to the present
Being in nature, whether that be in a park or strolling by a canal, can help you to feel connected to the present when you’re ruminating on the past. Not only is the exercise of walking there beneficial, but the distraction of low-level sounds such as rustling leaves or water trickling can help to focus your mind on what's happening around you.
Being out in nature has been shown to have a positive effect on mild symptoms of depression and anxiety. This is due to outdoor activities often meaning an increase in physical exercise, social contact and exposure to natural light which can all make a big difference to our mood. Even if you don’t live in the countryside, volunteering at a local city farm after a bereavement is a great way to slowly reintroduce socialising and outdoor activities into your calendar.
Trying new things
Growing flowers or vegetables, taking part in a foraging courses, or even joining a woodland trail are all great ways to feel closer to nature following a bereavement. Trying new things and meeting new people may not be on your mind for the first few months after a bereavement, but may be something you'll find helpful in time. If you're interested in trying a new outdoor activity, the mental health charity Mind has an excellent list of outdoors activities to try for your mental health.