I moved to Dorset 14 years ago, leaving the Cotswolds behind. I had spent a year visiting the coast in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset and felt being by the sea helped ease the pain and depression I was suffering following my divorce. My work luckily brought me to Dorset permanently and I settled in Southbourne. Hengistbury Head and the surrounding coastline of Southbourne and Boscombe provided an amazing environment, where the sea helped move my darkest emotions to a place of calm. The sound of the waves, feeling the fresh sea breeze and walking along the over-cliffe all helped support my mental wellbeing. It helped me to appreciate how lucky I was to live in such a beautiful place.
I found my environment and being by the coast really helped support my mental wellbeing. I felt a need and desire to be by the sea and in the sea whenever I could. But by moving to Dorset I left behind all my family and friends. I recovered from my depression and went on to get married and have two children. I always wanted them to know how wonderful it was to grow up with the sea almost on your doorstep. They were very lucky to have their younger years with almost every day at the beach.
When my mum became seriously unwell with an aggressive form of breast cancer I considered moving back to the Cotswolds. But at the time it was possible to easily get to her and come back to Dorset for work and my immediate family. The sea had become my home, my solace, my place to feel calm and at peace with the world.
The healing affect of nature
This all changed in 2017 when I was diagnosed with meningitis. I spent six months off work. Whilst my depression didn’t return, my physical limitations meant that I found looking at anything that moved including the sea made me very ill. I took a mindfulness for health course and focused on just sitting in Ashley Cross park, listening to the birds, feeling the warmth of the sun. Stillness in nature; by looking at the blossom, flowers, fields and trees became my new solace from ill health.
I spent three years recovering and hoping that the sea, the environment I called home would let me back. It never did, but with this I grew to appreciate all the other beautiful places in Dorset. My love of nature intensified and I felt I needed to be surrounded by fields, trees, birds and grass. The healing affect has been evidenced that green space restores both physical and psychological ill health.
As my physical health improved I felt a great sense of peace and calm in nature, so much so I wanted to work in nature. I had been left with neurological issues including photophobia which makes it difficult to work indoors under artificial light. I started volunteering for Dorset Mind during the lockdown and by chance was asked to support The GAP Project (gardening and people). Visiting The GAP Project in Dorchester felt like a new home, a tranquil, still place where you can hear the birds, watch the clouds and see the fruit and vegetables grow.
Mindfulness and the environment
Through regular mindfulness practice and teaching mindfulness, even the traffic noise disappears when the birds sing. The colours of flowers, blossom, fruit and vegetables are so vibrant. I notice the changes in nature and take time to notice the little creatures like ladybirds and butterflies. How beautiful nature is – and how lucky I feel to have been on a journey exploring nature and the environment.
My children are also mindful of how wonderful nature is. Whilst we can no longer live by the sea, they too now have a new-found appreciation for all the green spaces in Dorset and beyond.
Being in nature provides both children and adults the opportunity to experience positive emotions. To have a ‘wow’ moment when you spot a butterfly or ladybird. To feel joy when flying kites in the wind, or the warmth of the sun on your face. When we are immersed in nature and especially when we are active in nature we feel engaged. Our minds focus on the present moment and our anxiety and low mood can be eased.
When we are active in nature such as looking after the environment our activities have a meaning and purpose. Often, we access nature with others, friends, family or support groups. Being outside with others builds relationships and gives the space to feel free and connected to others. Being active in nature also helps us feel we have achieved something, whether its planting flowers, fruit or vegetables and watching them grow or actively making a change to the environment through conservation.
All these make up the PERMA model an evidenced approach to support mental wellbeing through positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaningful activity and achievement. When we have all of these evidence suggests we are more likely to have positive mental wellbeing and flourish. Or as I like to say ‘blossom like a tree’.
The GAP Project
Our ecotherapy allotments in Dorchester, The GAP Project focus on helping people build self-esteem and confidence. Our facilitators will encourage you to notice what you see at the allotment: nature, the skyline, flowers and creatures. Getting active through gardening will help improve your improving mental wellbeing. Visit our Facebook page: The GAP Project with Dorset Mind to find out how to access our sessions.
Special thanks to…
This article was written by our GAP Project Development Coordinator, Sharon Best. Sharon delivers sessions that support local people but building their confidence and self-esteem through gardening at the allotments.
Sharon is a Senior Physiologist, teaches mindfulness meditation and also writes her own wellbeing blog. If you would like to read more from her, visit 5minutes2wellness.com