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How nature helped me reconnect with myself after my parents died

Pilates teacher Abby McLachlan, 48, shares how spending time in nature eased the pain of losing her parents


Beautiful woman looking out of the window© Brenna Duncan
August 29, 2023
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I’ve always liked walking, and living in London I find that I walk a lot just getting around on a normal day, but walking became a lifeline for me last year when both of my parents died unexpectedly, within a four-month period.

We sold the family home and I felt like my anchor to the earth had been completely cut. The only thing that helped in the early days was exercise, especially taking to the forest with my dog for a walk.

I just walked and walked to feel connected to myself again and to give myself space to feel the sadness.

woman smiling outside in a blue jumper and statement necklace© Brenna Duncan
Abby McLachlan found that walking helped with her grief

When you have a young child and a demanding day job, you can end up on autopilot, and you become numb. Walking helped me grieve right after they died and it still does now.

On my dad's birthday in February, the first one we spent without him, my sister and I took a long walk through the forest. We talked about dad, the winter sun was filtering through the trees and I think we both felt closer to him. It was a hard and sad day, but we managed to also make it a lovely day, thanks to that walk.

MORE NATURE: Affected by anxiety and stress? You could have nature deficit disorder 

Nature hasn't only helped with my grief, though. Walking with my dog each day is time for myself, to clear my head and prepare me for the day ahead.

Woman walking her dog along a city street© Brenna Duncan
Abby walks her dog daily to start her day

I'm a Pilates teacher at my studio East of Eden in Walthamstow so am very active, but I find walking is a brilliant exercise for cardiovascular heath and improving circulation.

The terrain in the forest where I go is uneven, so I know it's helping my balance and bone density. Walking nature also reduces stress and improves my energy levels and encourages positive mental health.

Why does nature make us happier?

Walking and spending time in nature makes us happier due to the happy hormones it helps us produce - and the negative ones it reduces.

Time spent in nature sparks a series of happy reactions inside us, reducing our cortisol (stress) levels, increasing our levels of serotonin (the happiness hormone), and it can even cause us to produce the love hormone oxytocin (great if you're feeling lonely). 

Research from the University of Exeter shows that two hours a week in nature is the minimum needed in nature to improve our psychological wellbeing.

When I go with someone, it's a good chance to socialise in a healthy way, but most days I go alone. After I've dropped my son at school, I head into Epping Forest for a good walk before I get to work at 10 a.m. I tend to walk for at least an hour, more at weekends.

It's the best way to start my day and clear my mind. I don't listen to music, I just put my wellies on and walk through the trees. Even in the rain, the forest comes alive, and I always come back from my time in nature feeling refreshed and invigorated.

Read more inspiring stories of people who have been nurtured by nature.

Visit East of Eden to find out about the Pilates, barre and yoga classes they offer.

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