Elizabeth Day: Why I don’t feel nurtured by nature
Hair: Fabio Nogueira. Make-up: Ruby Hammer. Styling: Holly Elgeti. Blouse, Lisou. Trousers, Roland Mouret. Jewellery, Alighieri
I went for a walk the other day. It was sunny, the birds were chirping and I felt like I had to go outside ‘to make the most of it’. The news bulletins had been full of how great the weather was and how we were expecting a heatwave. My social media feeds were jam-packed with people posting pictures of socially distanced sunbathing in the park.
I didn’t particularly want to go for a walk because I had work to do. And once I’d finished I quite wanted to spend half an hour relaxing in front of an undemanding TV programme, but I felt as though I would be silently judged by the rest of the nation, with their daily Joe Wicks workouts and Fitbit walks.
In the end, I schlepped outside for a dutiful potter around the London streets. I took a photo of some blooming roses because, as we all know, a lockdown walk doesn’t exist unless you boast about it on Instagram afterwards, and when I posted the picture various strangers got in touch to tell me about the healing power of nature and how a walk was guaranteed to make you feel better.
To which I say: is that really true? Of all the myriad lockdown trends (sourdough yeast, banana bread, themed Zoom quizzes) the one I have the biggest issue with is the fetishisation of nature. I understand that plenty of people like to go for yomps around fields, breathing in the fresh air and perhaps throwing the odd stick for a wholesome labrador.
But this is not a privilege available to all. As a city-dweller, I’ve found my trips outside during lockdown have been stressful rather than relaxing. The roads and parks are far busier than usual, so I’m constantly having to swerve to avoid joggers and cyclists as if my life depended on it (which, in this time of coronavirus, is sadly a literal statement). I don’t find that it relaxes me. On the contrary, it winds me up.
Going for a walk is worrying when you’re mingling with strangers in face masks. It doesn’t clear my head. Instead, my head fills with anxious thoughts and then I worry that I’m not chilled enough, so it becomes a vicious circle and I keep checking my watch to see whether I’ve walked for an appropriate length of time before I can go home.
The sun makes it worse. In Britain, because we’ve historically seen so little of it, the appearance of sunshine triggers an automatic reflex for us to rush outdoors at the earliest opportunity. All the Instagram posts featuring outside beers and tanning routines make me feel like even more of a weirdo for not doing the same.
Again, it’s very nice if you can spend all day in your garden, perhaps connecting with the earth as you plant a hearty vegetable patch, feeling the warmth of the soil squeeze up in between your fingers as I’ve seen countless tweets recommend we all do for our mental health. But this is only possible if you have a garden. If you live in a flat in the middle of an urban setting, there is little option to bask in this natural glory without going outside and walking for ages before you get to somewhere resembling a field.
To be honest, I don’t especially want to walk or cycle or jog, and the pressure online to be doing all these things to avoid going stir crazy just makes my guilt worse. Yes, sometimes it can be calming to go outside and smell the roses. But other times, it’s perfectly acceptable to spend all day indoors, because this could be how you best relax.
The truth is, some of us feel like going outside and some of us don’t and it’s entirely dependent on individual circumstance. Nature can be a great healer. But not always and not for everyone.
This week I’m…