Can green spaces help you feel better? Today we are chatting with Karen Liebenguth about green spaces, mental health and the impact of nature on children and us!
Please can you introduce yourself to our readers and explain a little about what you do.
My name is Karen Liebenguth, I am an accredited life and leadership coach, mindfulness teacher and trainer. I am a member of the Eco-Leadership Institute, the Association of Coaching and the British Association of Mindfulness Based Approaches (BAMBA).
I started Green Space Coaching & Mindfulness in 2008. Specialising in coaching people in natural settings in and around London. Also delivering mindfulness programmes to foster healthy and resilient workplaces.
What exactly is a Green Space Coach?
A Green Space Coach essentially is someone who coaches people while walking outdoors in nature.
I decided to specialise in this area because I’d always noticed how different I felt when I spent time in nature; more grounded, creative and content. Being outdoors helps me to see a little further into my life and gives me a clearer sense of perspective. When I started coaching I wanted to focus on helping my clients to experience these benefits too
How would you describe mindfulness and its importance in our day to day lives?
Mindfulness is about awareness of what’s happening inside and outside of us moment by moment without pushing away that which feels difficult or holding on to the pleasant.
We all possess this quality. By not worrying about things that happened in the past, or feeling anxious about what might happen in the future, we can experience more pleasure, joy and happiness in our life.
Over time, practicing mindfulness can contribute to a sense of empowerment. By recognising we can make choices about how to live life more fully. In turn, it helps in the development of better relationships, more stability in life and an increased sense of wellbeing.
What inspired you to become a mindfulness teacher and green space coach?
I moved to London from my home in Germany to lead a team in an international company. Then went on to work in organisational development at Friends of the Earth. My work opened my eyes to the challenges that confront employees and leaders, and how these situations can shift our lives and organisations out of balance.
Experiencing the pressure and anxiety of managing a team, I asked myself: ‘How can I begin to support myself to be able to support others?’.
To find the answer, I had to understand myself first. I looked into coaching and registered for my first coaching training weekend. Creating the time and space to be curious about myself, gave me the opportunity to explore who I was and what really mattered to me.
I realised that understanding myself and entering into a kind and compassionate relationship with myself was transformative. I began to change different areas of my life which I discovered had a positive impact on my relationships.
Finding my sense of self was very liberating and gave me a clear sense of purpose to start supporting others.
Today we are talking about nature and the benefit of it on our mental health. Why do you feel nature is so important to good mental health?
Our connection with nature is hard-wired and as such, spending time in nature can help us to become more attuned to how we are feeling, calms the mind and reduces stress.
When we spend time outdoors we naturally slow down. This lowers the heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormone levels (cortisol and adrenaline). As the body softens, the nervous system calms down and we feel more relaxed, grounded, calm and more confident about ourselves and life. Also, being in nature strengthens our immune system, improves our mood and reduces feelings of isolation.
The biologist, E.O. Wilson came up with the ‘Biophilia Hypothesis’. This concludes that humans have a hard-wired disposition to connect with the natural world. We come from nature, hence we are part of nature. It’s no surprise then that spending time in nature has a wealth of benefits for both our mental and physical wellbeing.
What is the number one benefit of spending time outdoors on how we feel?
Feeling happy, grounded and open-hearted, I think, are probably the most important benefits of spending time in nature.
How important do you feel it is for children’s mental health to get outside and spend time in nature?
Of course, spending time outside is very important for children’s mental health. Being active outside has a “feel good” effect on children which is particularly helpful for those who are prone to anxiety. Spending time in nature allows children to be carefree. It inspires more creative and fresh thinking. Also, playing outside with other children will strengthen friendships as well as providing an opportunity to make new friends. These things will go a long way to keeping our children’s mental health in good shape.
Things are difficult for people right now with the Cost-of-Living Crisis. Some people do not have access to their own garden either. What would you suggest to those people when thinking about getting outside for the day during the summer holidays?
No matter whether you live in a city, town or village there is always a green space not too far away. I would suggest putting together a picnic and walking to a nice spot which could be in a park, by a river or stream. Take some games, like a ball, frisbee or cricket bat for those who might like something active to do. For those who want to relax after lunch, what could be nicer than reading a good book or a magazine.
Alternatively, if you have bikes plot a route and have a day out cycling. It’s great exercise and a fun way to explore. You can visit places you may not have been to before. Perhaps stop for a picnic lunch, tea, drinks or even a swim if your route passes a river, or pond.
We love coming up with new ideas on what we can do outside, like creating our own sports day for example. Do you have any exciting suggestions that our readers could try out?
How about a treasure hunt? This can be fun for all ages. It will need some creative thinking on the part of those organising it. For those taking part, good team work will be important. You can make the treasure hunt as long or short as you wish. It could involve collecting items, which would be educational for younger children, or finding clues that will lead you to the final destination and the treasure!
If you have young people at home who need to burn off some energy creating an assault course outside using household items is a great way to keep everyone occupied for several hours. It requires some serious planning on what to include, finding everything you need to create the course and then putting it together. Depending on the number of people involved you could turn it into a competition by timing participants and presenting the winner, or winning team, with a trophy!
What do you do to keep your mental health in tip top shape?
I often prescribe a daily dose of Vitamin N to my clients and I always make time every day to be in nature which I believe keeps me in good mental health.
We enjoyed talking with Karen, learning more about how green spaces and nature could make a difference to our mood. You can find more information about Karen Liebenguth by checking out her website, Green Space Coaching.
Do you enjoy being out in nature? What activities do you do whilst you’re out? Share your tips with us on TikTok, Instagram, Threads, Facebook and Twitter. Find out more about plants and their effects in our article Top 5 Benefits of Plants on the Mind.