Noticing nature: Eight practical exercises you can try to improve your mood

If you are a fan of wetlands and their wild, watery landscapes filled with life, then you probably don't need any encouragement to get out there. Yet sometimes we could all do with resetting and instead of focusing on what we're doing, seeing or achieving next, taking time in the moment to notice the little things as well as the huge winter spectacles.

autumn leaves

How we can deepen our relationship with nature

Nature connection is an internationally recognised scientific expression the correct term being “nature connectedness”. We know that simple exposure to nature is good for us. However, connection with nature is something more meaningful and deeper than exposure. Here are some of the ways we might do this:

1. Engage all our senses – touch, smell, sight, hearing, taste. Sight is often the least important.

2. Explore our positive emotional bonds through nature with experiences that instil calmness and happiness.

3. Look for beauty in things, such as appreciating natural scenery or engaging with nature through art and music.

4. Look for the hidden meanings, emphasise traditions, localness, seasonality and language – nature is everywhere, from folklore to place names.

5. Show compassion by developing a moral and ethical concern for nature, such as making ethical product choices or helping to make life better for wildlife.

Everyone is different – you may find certain methods create a greater connection for you than others. Find your thing and explore it!

…it’s a feeling of peace, uplifting, it’s healthy. I think for anyone who’s got something on their mind, after five or 10 minutes walking, and just noticing something in nature, they can leave their stresses and troubles behind. It’s hugely healthy.

-From a WWT member

Practical exercises for you to try

autumn leaves

You’ve probably heard of the term mindfulness? It’s essentially a way to help yourself be more present, intentionally aware of everything going on around you. It's a technique that was developed by doctors to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. And evidence shows that although not a cure-all, it can be beneficial for many: the Mental Health Foundation says that "people undertaking mindfulness training have shown increased activity in the area of the brain associated with positive emotion – the pre-frontal cortex – which is generally less active in people who are depressed."

And the good news is you don’t have to be sitting on a meditation pillow in a dark room. You can do it as you wander through a wetland…

These short practices might help you take a step back from your own thoughts and focus on the world around you, whether you’re staying local or out in the wild.

Close up bird feathers
  1. Look for other life around you, from plants to insects to birds. What wildlife do you spot? It’s not always obvious, so take the time to look hard at everything. Notice how it looks, sounds, moves. You might spot details in the smallest things you’ve never noticed before.
  2. Go outside and walk mindfully, noticing each step, how it feels on the ground, the crunch of leaves or ice. Listen to the water splashing, the birds calling and the reeds rustling.
  3. Write down positive experiences you’ve had in nature during lockdown that improved your mood. This can include virtual experiences too – did you draw a picture, hear a song, or see a video related to nature that made you feel calmer and happier? Make a plan to include these experiences in your day at a regular time.
  4. Stop and listen at a window. What birds can you hear? Do you recognise any of them? Are they high-pitched, low, quiet, or loud? What might be their motivation? Visualise a favourite natural space – where will you go, what do you see, how does it make you feel? If you’re stuck at home you can use pictures, sound recordings or videos to help transport you.
  5. Watch water - at a wetland, in your pond, bird bath, or create your own mini indoor pond. Find a river or stream that you can sit next to safely. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the water. Being near water is scientifically shown to improve our wellbeing.
  6. Decide on a series of five colours when out on a walk and find objects in those colours as you go. When you reach the end of the sequence, start again. This is a fun trick to help you be present in the moment, without distractions.
  7. What’s my natural object? This is a fun one to play with kids - you'll need at least two people. Blindfold your partner (or ask them to close their eyes). Choose a natural object and place it in their hands. Get them to feel and smell it carefully. Can they guess the object?
  8. Think back to your past week noticing nature and note down three things you’re grateful for. Keeping a gratitude diary might seem a bit silly at first, but it can help us appreciate the small things that boost our mood, that we're often unaware of.
autumn wetlands

Looking after your mental health

This content was produced in collaboration with The Mental Health Foundation

The Mental Health Foundation has a wealth of resources full of simple, inexpensive and practical tips to help you look after your mental health, as well as specific mental health advice related to the challenges of lockdown.

Public Health England has developed explicit guidance on mental health in the crisis. If you want to develop a personalised plan for supporting your mental health you can also visit the PHE Every Mind Matters site, developed in collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation.

Campaigning for wellbeing

Wetlands can provide blue spaces that are especially beneficial to wellbeing, helping people to adopt healthy and more sustainable behaviour (e.g. active travel), inducing positive mood and reducing stress. We want to create more accessible blue spaces close to where people live in urban areas by improving wetlands and creating sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) such as ponds or rain gardens. Find out more about our wellbeing research and programme at

Five things you can do in wetlands to improve your wellbeing

Whether it is a stroll through one of our reserves, an hour spent quietly in a hide with some binoculars or hand-feeding our friendly geese, these connections with our natural world do something to us that fundamentally affects our sense of wellbeing. Here are some easy tips to get you out of that lockdown slump.

Read more