With increasing numbers of people being diagnosed with stress, depression and anxiety, Bernadette Petrie says one of the key solutions is to spend time outside – whether it’s on the beach, in the water, in the woods or up a mountain.

One thing I discovered when I began living by the sea is that I always felt better after time out in nature. Living near the sea encouraged me to take up running and sea swimming – and both played a huge part in my healing. I also noticed that if I took my children to the beach when they were young – they would play together well, no fights happened in nature! Simply put, our gremlins don’t live in nature.

Five days before I became a patient at the Priory, I’d been for a run on the beach with my dog Seaweed. I was very aware that something was not okay with my state of mind, and yet, at the same time, I felt so sure I was being guided through it all. I felt calm and confident; my intentions were good, so I took off my trainers and socks and spoke – semi-joking – to my dog, “Will you come in with me, Seaweed? I’m a bit scared I might not come back.” She headed to the water’s edge without hesitation, and we stepped into the sea together. As I fully submerged, I felt all the tension, doubt and fear disappear. I lay on my back and screamed with joy as tears of relief rolled down my face. I learnt at that moment that I could trust myself far more than my inner gremlins would have me believe. 

Stepping out of that water, I experienced what I now describe as a flash-forward in time; I felt stronger and more certain in my body. I walked back, barefoot, from the beach with a feeling of peace surging through every fibre of my being. I had no idea everything was about to collapse, and within 48 hours, I would be admitted to the Priory as doctors thought I was experiencing a manic episode. I am eternally grateful that nature pulled me into her arms – things were firmly in motion and could not be undone. 

During my stay in the Priory, I was shocked at how disconnected from nature the building was. Deep down, I knew the healing effects of being in the sea and the woods – so spending six weeks in this closed-off environment was one of the hardest parts of my stay. Things have now moved on in mental health, but the connection between our mental health, physical health and spiritual health is the crux of it all. My first room in the Priory had a beautiful tree outside the window, and it was so peaceful to look at. But outside my room, it was dark and devoid of peace. After a day, or two, I started to leave my door deliberately wide-open, so the staff could see daylight and experience the healing effects of this tree. If having a view of nature can make such a big difference – imagine the difference regularly immersing yourself in nature could make to your life. 

If you are experiencing anxiety or feel overwhelmed, lean into nature for a helping hand. And, as East Lothian is home to natural coastlines, hills and woods, each with their own healing properties, what better place to start? Ten minutes walking barefoot in the park, paddling at the edge of the shore or simply watering the plants in your garden will do wonders. Being amongst trees is magical – why not let your inhibitions go and hug one? You’ll feel your internal system relax almost instantly. If the water appeals, rather than toe-dipping, build in an extra ten minutes and take yourself for a proper dip – in no time at all, you will be grinning from ear to ear.

I no longer experience stress or anxiety in the way I used to. And yes, whilst I went through some traditional therapy, life would feel very different without nature and its powerful medicine. So, it’s time to let nature really play its part.

You can buy Bernadette’s book and card deck online: www.bernadettepetrie.com
Also available from: NØRDEN 82 High St, North Berwick.