One foot forward

Taking steps towards improving your mental and physical wellbeing

One Foot Forward

Taking steps towards improving your mental and physical wellbeing

Due to the restrictions placed on our everyday lives caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we are all experiencing increased levels of stress and anxiety. During the spring and summer months there are greater opportunities to spend time outdoors but during the autumn and winter, when the days are short, our time spent outdoors is much reduced, increasing our chances of suffering from anxiety and stress.

Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.

Hermann Hesse

No matter what time of year, spending time surrounded by nature and being mindful of the natural world around us can make you feel calmer and more relaxed. Taking a walk in your local park, along a quiet country lane, immersing yourself in nature at a nature reserve or in an ancient woodland provides us with an opportunity to relax and breath. Using our senses to touch, smell, see and hear nature is extremely beneficial to our mental wellbeing.

Many a calm river begins as a turbulent waterfall, yet none hurtles and foams all the way to the sea.

Mikhail Lermontov

Observing and experiencing the world around us through physical activity such as walking can be an extremely positive experience, no matter how far you walk or for how long. A regular walking routine can promote calmness and provide a sense of wellbeing.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.

John Lubbock

Keep a journal

Keep a journal noting down dates, walks and things you saw. Note how the seasons change, and notice how your observations, thoughts, and ideas change too. A journal entry can consist of notes, drawings, scrap-book items, found objects – anything. Write just one-word to describe your walk, your mood, your day, write a paragraph or a poem. Write about how you are feeling.

Perhaps you know someone you can ‘Buddy Up’ with? Someone who might enjoy walking too. Do not be afraid to ask, you might just make someone’s day!

There is more to life than increasing its speed.

Mahatma Gandhi

A winter walkin the countryside with family, friends, your dog or on your own can rejuvenate your physical and mental health and wellbeing. Photo © 2022 Zsuzsanna Bird (WildNet).

A walk, no matter where or for how far will have a positive effect on your mental health. Photo © 2022 Mark Hamblin/2020VISION (WildNet).

Stress relief

A walk should be an activity that focuses on you and those walking with you. No matter if you are walking alone or with friends or family, leave your mobile phone at home.

Once you have started your walk, slow down, walk gently. Take a moment to pause. Stand for a moment to two; be aware of your whole body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Then try some simple relaxation exercises…

  • Shake out one leg, then the other, for a few seconds each
  • Form a fist with each hand, then alternately relax and contract a few times each
  • Shrug your shoulders up and down
  • Shake out your arms
  • Close your eyes and slowly take several, slow deep breaths – breath in through the nose, out through the mouth, slowly… purposefully

Now begin to walk… slowly! There is no rush. Focus on what you can see around you. Look to the left and to the right, look up high into the sky, chest out, head held high. Stop again, wait, relax. Spotted something that caught your eye? Take time observe and appreciate everything around you. Continue to take slow breaths.

Connecting with nature

Transforming the Trent Valley is delivering a project to help improve the mental wellbeing of people right across our scheme area.

Our Connecting with Nature project will enable more people to connect with nature to improve their mental wellbeing. Participants will begin to understand the river, wetlands and heritage of the area through a programme using ‘forest school’ type methods, including community gardening, guided walks and bushcraft activities.

Walking at Tucklesholme

Photo © 2022 Transforming the Trent Valley (Steven Cheshire)



Observing wildlife is especially relaxing and useful in reducing stress in our lives. It encourages you to slow down, be calm and quiet.

What are the birds doing? Are they feeding, singing, searching for food, nest building or preening? Follow one bird… what is it doing? What colour is it, how does it move? Is it solitary or part of a small group or a large flock? Are they feeding on the ground, in hedgerows or trees? What are they eating?

No birds? Look up at the sky. Is it cloudy? How fast the clouds are moving? Do not forget that just above the clouds there is a beautiful blue sky bathed in sunshine. Is the sun shining through the trees? Are the trees blowing in the wind? Seek out shadows, light and dark.

Take a quiet moment to observe the world around you. Photo © 2022 Matthew Roberts (WildNet).


Be aware of the sounds around you. Try separating out the sounds. What can you hear? Birdsong, traffic, sirens, rustling leaves, voices, laughter, music. Take time to focus on each sound. Listen with your eyes open, and then with your eyes closed. Which sounds do you find most relaxing?

BBC Soundscapes for Wellbeing

The BBC have launched their own Soundscapes mixer, giving you the opportunity to create the perfect relaxing track – just for you.

It is proven that time in nature can improve your mental health, so why not try creating your own mix from over 33,000 sounds from around the world, 17,000 of those from nature itself. Once you’ve finished you can download the file to play when you need a little time to unwind.

Create Your Soundscape


If the sun is shining, turn your face towards the sun, eyes closed, and feel the warmth on you face. There may be a breeze, if so, notice the direction it comes from. If it is raining, can you feel the raindrops on your face? Close your eyes for a moment and become aware of all the different sensations. Are different parts of your body feeling warm or cool? If you are able, gently touch moss, tree bark, wood, leaves, grass, and stone and take time to experience the different textures.


Take some deep breaths and be aware of the smells along your walk, some pleasant and some less-so! Trees, shrubs, and flowers all smell different throughout the day, seek out different smells, crush leaves between your fingers to give your nostrils an odour-rich workout!

Get closer to nature and use all your senses to experience the natural world in all its glory. Photo © 2022 Tom Marshall (WildNet).

Signs of stress

Everyone responds to stress and anxiety in different ways. Stress and anxiety can affect your emotions, physical wellbeing, mental ability and behaviour.

Emotional symptoms can include:

  • Feelings of being overwhelmed, agitated or fustrated
  • Difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
  • Low self-esteem, feeling lonely, worthless, or depressed

Physical symptoms can include:

  • Low energy, headaches, aches, pains, and tense muscles
  • Frequent colds and infections
  • Insomnia

Cognitive symptoms can include:

  • Constant worrying and racing thoughts
  • Forgetfulness and inability to focus
  • Feeling pessimistic

Behavioural symptoms can include:

  • Changes in appetite, not eating or eating too much
  • Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
  • Exhibiting more nervous behaviours, such as nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing

Time just for me

As you walk and engage all your senses, notice how other thoughts may still linger in the back, or forefront, of your mind. Allow these thoughts to come and go.

If you find a place that makes you feel calm, remember the place, and promise to return. It can be helpful to visualise a place and remember how calm it made you feel.

At the end of the walk, take time to think about how you feel compared to when you set off. Do you feel less tense? Is your breathing deeper and slower? Have you experienced moments along your walk when you have felt less anxious?

Take a quite moment... just for you to relax and unwind in nature Photo © 2022 Alan Walker (WildNet).

Useful resources