Want to curb that anxiety creeping in? Time to make like David Attenborough and embrace the natural world – it’s far better for you than being stuck behind a computer screen. In 2016, a study by the UK’s University of Derby looked at the happiness levels of participants who did some activity in nature – feeding the birds, planting flowers – every day for a month. Two months afterwards, the number of people reporting on their health as ‘excellent’ shot up by 30%.
Moreover, there’s a growing body of evidence to show connecting with the natural world aids everything from our mental health – reducing stress, anxiety and depression – to lowering our risk of cardiovascular and respiratory-tract illnesses.
Here’s how to reduce anxiety instantly
Lose yourself in a maze
Redberry strawberry farm in George boasts the second-biggest hedge maze in the world after the Pineapple Garden Maze in Hawaii. Gather a bunch of friends and see who’ll be first to stamp their maze cards at all seven strawberry stations hidden within. Losing yourselves on the winding paths is a great way to escape for an hour or two. Then cool off with drinks on the deck of the on-site Red Shed Coffee & Berry Bar. Maze entry is R40 per person; click here for more information.
Sit beside water
The sight and sound of water, whether it’s the ocean lapping the shore or the calming babble of a river, has healing power. In fact, a research review published in the journal Health & Place showed that being able to see blue space (i.e. a body of water) is associated with happier mood states.
So, dig out your trainers and download the Trail Guide South Africa app (free for iOS/ Apple; Android) to search for hiking, biking and running trails through SA’s spectacular countryside, including along our coasts, rivers and lakes.
Spend time with elephants
Elephant Whispers, run by tourism group, Seasons in Africa and situated on the banks of the Sabie River, offers a rare chance to spend the day interacting with and helping to care for six African elephants. Rescued from planned game-reserve cullings, they’re now envoys for their threatened species.
Join their dedicated handlers at sunrise to wake and then treat the elephants to a brushing down before their morning exercise. Then walk with them down to the river, where they drink and cool off – giving you a spray down, too! Roll up your sleeves… In the afternoon you’ll work together to muck out their stables and collect their food.
Elephant Whispers also participates in conservation research, so you’ll learn about the elephants’ history and may get to help record this group’s behaviour, while they spend time free-ranging in the bush. And you’ll get a tickle out of watching them cavort in the mud pools. There’s no better way to boost your mood and reduce anxiety. Evening arrives with well-deserved sundowners back at the stable as the elephants are settled in for the night.
‘Day with an Elephant’ costs R4 100 per person, available Monday to Sunday (book in advance). Click here for more information.
Extend your stay
Stay over at Seasons in Africa’s Hippo Hollow Country Estate, across the footbridge from Elephant Whispers and a 10-minute drive from the Kruger National Park’s Phabeni Gate. From R1 935 per person sharing in a two-sleeper Garden Chalet, with breakfast. Click here for more information.
Volunteer to work with animals
Scientific fact: spending time with pets relieves stress. But you don’t have to be an animal owner to benefit and give a little TLC, too… SPCA animal shelters around SA can always do with an extra pair of helping hands to give their dogs and cats some personal attention by walking, playing with, or grooming them. After a short training session, you’ll be one of the team and can volunteer any time. Click here for more information.