The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is nature. I certainly couldn’t think of a better time to reflect on and showcase one of life’s most vital gifts.

We have all endured the fallout of the global pandemic – death of loved ones, lockdown, social distance, stress, fatigue, loneliness and travel restriction. For some it has been profound. For others, it has meant challenging work, in more fragile and difficult circumstances. As a writer, being office bound has never been a problem for me – but take away those lunch time catch ups, watercooler moments and physical conversations and team meetings, and life just seems that little bit duller.

One of things that has helped many of us through these terribly dark times, has been our connection to nature. For the walkers, hikers, gardeners and allotment enthusiasts, perhaps this passion has always been there. For others, it’s been the rekindling of a romance or a newly found support mechanism.

Whatever the case, people seem to be noticing nature just that little bit more. Not just the profound global issues around our climate and planet’s health. But also, the small, local, observable changes – the blooming of wildflowers on a walking path. The newly appearing plants in a local park. Even the coming and goings of bluetits, blackbirds and other feathered friends through a window. Open your eyes to nature and you open your eyes to the soul of the world.

Of course, nature has always been around us – it was here a long time before we were! We have evolved as nature has evolved and unsurprisingly that makes nature central to our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. There are the obvious physical benefits of interacting with nature – from raising heart rates on strenuous walks, to getting your steps over 10,000, but there are also relaxing, therapeutic positives – not least a feeling of connection to something that is living, breathing and growing as we observe it.

For those without garden space, lockdown has been particularly tough. It’s why this Mental Health Awareness week there’s a big push to acknowledge that “nature is not a luxury” (2021, Mark Rowland, Chief Executive, Mental Health Awareness Week). It fires our brains to be creative. It inspires and strikes awe. Through a love of nature, we find connection to others and a shared understanding of how it can protect our wellbeing and sense of happiness.

If you’ve found yourself going on long-walks, exploring parks and gardens hither to ignored, my advice is don’t stop these wanderings because lockdown is lifting. If you have garden space, when you can, invite others into it safely. Be generous with the time you give yourself in nature. Keep taking those Zoom breaks and get outside. Feel the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, even the chill on your skin. It is in these moments that our bodies feel most alive.

This Mental Health Awareness Week let’s talk about nature and how profoundly important it is. There is only Planet A right now – and she is a thing of beauty. Protect her, nurture her and love her and she will give back to you more than you can possibly imagine.

#ConnectWithNature and let others know what nature means to you.