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Books on mental health, mindfulness and connecting with nature

Browse our list of recommended books for getting active and taking notice of wildlife and the world around us.

Woman reading a book outdoors. © Atsushi Yamada/Getty

Spending time in nature can have a profound and positive effect on our health and wellbeing. Indeed, studies in the field of environmental psychology examining how our relationship with nature impacts our mental and physical health consistently find that they are inextricably linked.


Limit our access to, and interaction with, nature and our health suffers; spend more time nurturing our connection to the natural world and we thrive (and that goes for both of us).

A 2019 study of over 20,000 people led by the University of Exeter Medical School found that spending just two hours a week in nature – whether being active or just sitting and observing – “significantly boosts” our mental health and life satisfaction. Extrapolate from this and the benefits of wider, regular exposure to the natural world may be life-changing.

“Choosing to spend time outdoors, somewhere green, is certainly my prescription for stressed out bodies and minds,” says Dr Rangan Chatterjee, GP, author and BBC One broadcaster. “Research has found that time spent in green spaces lowers stress by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It can also reduce symptoms of depression, help increase attention span and focus, boost the immune system, increase our energy levels, lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, and improve sleep.”

The books in this article examine the effect that the natural world has on our mental health, and provide tips on connecting with it. The books were chosen by Kirstie Duhig, or reviewed in BBC Wildlife Magazine.

Did you know? 

Reading for six minutes lowers cortisol, and with it your stress level, by 68%. It works by helping to clear your mind and minimise body tension. 

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Books on mental health, mindfulness and connecting with nature

Mindful Thoughts for Birdwatchers: Finding awareness in nature

By Adam Ford. Published by Leaping Hare Press, £5.99.

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Mindful Thoughts For Birdwatchers

Discover hidden birdlife in the city, the art of listening deeply and why birdwatching is so good for our wellbeing, all interspersed with Adam Ford’s mindful thoughts on the interconnectedness of nature.

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative

By Florence Williams. Published by W. W. Norton & Company, £12.99.

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Screenshot 2020-04-03 at 14.55.02

As she sets out to discover the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain, Florence Williams’ journey takes her from rural Scotland to South Korean cypress forests and demonstrates that even small amounts of exposure to the natural world can improve our creativity and boost our mood.

The Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us – A Diary

By Emma Mitchell. Published by Michael O’Mara, £14.99.

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The Wild remedy cover

An honest and moving account of Emma Mitchell’s woodland walks, nature finds and wildlife discoveries over the course of a year – including 100 hand-drawn illustrations and 40 colour photographs by Emma – The Wild Remedy details how each encounter with nature significantly influenced her mental wellbeing.

Read an extract from The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell, and try out Emma Mitchell’s recipe for an autumnal berry cocktail from her Making Winter book.

Bird Therapy

By Joe Harkness. Published by Unbound, £9.99.

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Bird Therapy PB Cover

This deeply touching and inspiring book began its life as a blog, recounting Joe Harkness’ experience of anxiety, depression and breakdown and the surprising, subtle and yet profound way watching birds helped to heal his mental health. Filled with practical advice, Harkness invites us to discover the therapeutic benefits for ourselves.

Read Joe Harkness’ feature for BBC Wildlife on mental health and birdwatching.

The Almanac Journal

By Lia Leendertz. Published by Mitchell Beazley, £14.99.

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The Almanac Journal

Lia Leendertz is the creator of The Almanac – A Seasonal Guide to 2020, a beautiful reinvention of the traditional rural almanac, which invites us to connect with and appreciate nature and the seasons.

Newly released is The Almanac Journal – a place to create your own personal almanac, starting and ending at any point in the year, with spaces for sketches, notes, recipes, pressed flowers and more.

By the Sea: The therapeutic benefits of being in, on and by the water

By Dr Deborah Cracknell. Published by Aster, £14.99.

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By The Sea

We know, instinctively, that being by the sea is good for us. Marine biologist Dr Deborah Cracknell sets out to explore the science behind our relationship with the ocean and its power to enhance our wellbeing, with tips on deepening this connection, as well as highlighting the threats our oceans face and how we can care for them.

Dark Skies – A Journey into the Wild Night

By Tiffany Francis. Published by Bloomsbury, £16.99.

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Dark Skies

Writer, artist and environmentalist Tiffany Francis travels through nightscapes in the UK and Europe, from Finland and Arctic Norway to a nocturnal sail down the UK’s River Dart, in this exploration of how our wellbeing is linked to our relationship with nature and the dark.

Enjoy Tiffany Francis’ recipes from her Food You Can Forage book.

Ring The Hill

By Tom Cox. Published by Unbound, £9.99.

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Ring The Hill PB Cover

Ring The Hill ​is a book about walking in nature, in which “the stories somewhat mirror the digressive rhythms of walks themselves”. Each chapter takes a type of hill – a knoll, a cap, a cliff, a tor – as a starting point for an intimate, and at times laugh-out-loud funny, exploration of nature, landscape, folklore and much more.

Feel Better in 5: Your Daily Plan to Feel Better For Life

By Dr Rangan Chatterjee. Published by Penguin Life, £16.99.

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Feel Better in 5

Stress and wellbeing expert Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s latest book is full of quick and easy ways to feel healthier in mind and body, with his ‘micro-prescriptions’ including time spent in nature, simple mindfulness practices and easy-to-do-at-home exercises.

Losing Eden

By Lucy Jones. Published by Allen Lane, £20.00.

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Losing Eden jacket

In this book, Lucy Jones discusses the importance of nature for our well-being, what ecological grief is, and how our disconnect from the natural world can be tackled. An extract from BBC Wildlife‘s interview with Lucy in the April 2020 issue:

“Spending time in a natural environment can reduce stress, boost our immune systems, curb worry or anxious thoughts, lower inflammation, relax the nervous system, enhance recovery, expose us to important micro organisms that may have antidepressant-like effects, as well as provide opportunities for awe, calm, focus, happiness and psychological restoration.

As one scientist put it to me, it’s like a club sandwich. We all know intuitively that many of us feel better after a walk in the woods or by the sea but I wanted to find out how and why it works. What is the mechanism? My mind was blown by the variety of evidence – multiple mechanisms! – I found while researching Losing Eden.”

The Natural Health Service

By Isabel Hardman. Published by Atlantic Books, £16.99 (hardback) or £9.99 (paperback).

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Natural Health Service jacket

Personally, this book has been long-awaited. Hardman can write anything from a political briefing to describing a wildflower with class and flare, and The Natural Health Service doesn’t disappoint. ‘Mental health and nature’ is a popular topic (crowded? Perhaps), but Hardman brings an interesting political angle.

She discusses several mental illnesses, including depression, PTSD and anorexia. The narrative is personal, honest, even raw, and she tells her story and those of others without apology, combining a down-to-earth style with wit, authenticity, research and a touch of campaigning: the last chapter is a manifesto.

This is a highly relatable book for anyone who has suffered from (or has supported someone with) a mental illness. More, she provides one of the most compelling arguments for prescribing nature and how to make it accessible for everyone.

Reviewed by Lucy McRobert, nature writer


By Dr Ruth Allen. Published by Wellbeck Publishing Group, £16.99.

Grounded cover

Motivated by a period of intense grief, confusion and disconnect with herself and the natural world she so loved, Dr Ruth Allen has written a beautiful, practical book, using her experience as a scientist and therapist to testify how returning ‘home’ to nature is the ultimate form of self-care.

Incorporating personal anecdotes with peer-reviewed research, Allen outlines easy exercises for readers to incorporate into daily routines. From ‘green exercise’, to stillness, breathing techniques and solitude, she gently encourages readers that an innate relationship with nature exists within us all and can be rekindled on a path to ‘grounding’.

She describes nature as a teacher – no matter our past or present experience. She writes of how easily we can learn from nature: its ability to operate in the present moment, to go with the flow, hold no prejudices and how we can take comfort in its rhythms and rituals.

This is a timely and reassuring book. One to keep on the bedside table and return to again and again.

Reviewed by Sophie Pavelle, zoologist and author


Main image: Woman reading a book outdoors. © Atsushi Yamada/Getty