Small actions make a big difference

Department of Conservation —  08/09/2022

This Conservation Week, outdoor lover Lucy Holyoake reflects on what self-isolation taught her about the power of small actions – for our wellbeing and for nature.

By Lucy Holyoake, DOC Digital Channels Analyst 

My happy place 📷: Belle Gwilliam

I’ve been an outdoor lover since I was small. 

My childhood was full of adventures in the outdoors – summiting local mountains, multi-day tramping trips and nights out under the stars. I’ve always felt happiest outside, completely absorbed in the environment around me. 

In my day-to-day city life, it can be easy to get busy and disconnect from nature. You forget just how important small daily doses of nature are for your wellbeing.  

Recently, I had COVID-19 and had to self-isolate. 

I’ve been fortunate to make a full recovery, but it reminded me that small actions are sometimes the ones that matter the most. Both for our wellbeing, and for nature’s. 

Let the self-isolation begin 

My isolation began on a Friday afternoon, when the dreaded double red lines decided my fate for the next 7 days. 

In an instant, my dreams of a sunny weekend bike ride around the bays, and stopping by my local cafe disappeared.

After going through what felt like the 5 stages of grief in a few short hours, I finally accepted my situation and steeled myself for my week-long house arrest. 

Finding distractions 

My isolation creation 📷: Me

Fortunately, with only mild symptoms, I decided my coping strategy was to keep myself as busy as possible. 

Over the weekend I caught up on my pile of unread books, rewatched nostalgic movies from my childhood and scrolled aimlessly on social media. I even dipped my toes in a new creative pursuit and sewed myself a friend.

It didn’t take long to get into the routine of not going outside.

As the days at home wore on, I got used to my new indoor routine. 

I could stay in my pyjamas all day, I’d found enough indoor activities to distract my brain, and the delivered takeaways were an exciting end-of-day treat (sorry wallet). I felt I was coping well, comfortably even. 

And then it hit me 

When Day 5 came along, something shifted. I woke up exhausted and demotivated. Everything felt heavy. There’s no other words for it – I just felt sad. 

As I made my morning coffee, I stared blankly in the direction of the window. The sun was just starting to come up, turning the trees on the hillside golden. 

As my eyes came into focus, I realised just how beautiful the morning light was. I also realised just how dark my kitchen felt in comparison. 

It struck me that I’d got so caught up in housebound life, it was like I forgot nature even existed outside. I’d barely even opened a window to breathe fresh air.

Of course I felt sad. 

So instead of jumping straight onto my computer and carrying on with another day inside, I took myself on a (socially distanced) walk around the neighbourhood. 

Outside again 

My small dose of local nature 📷: Me 

The minute I stepped outside, my head started to clear. I took a deep breath of crisp winter air and started moving. 

I remembered a mindfulness exercise I’d long forgotten about, where you notice 3 things you can see, feel and hear.  

So as I walked, I concentrated on noticing my senses and my surroundings. The way the trees swayed in the breeze, the sound of a tui’s song, the warm feeling of the sun on my skin. 

When I got home, I couldn’t believe how different I felt.  

Small actions make a big difference 

For the rest of isolation, I incorporated the small action of going outside at least once a day – whether it was for another mindful walk, sipping my coffee on the balcony, or watering my pot plants.  

Taking a moment for morning coffee on my balcony 📷: Me 

Those small daily actions made a big difference to my wellbeing for the remainder of my self-isolation.  

And small actions make a big difference to nature’s wellbeing too. 

It’s Conservation Week

This year’s theme is ‘take a moment to act for nature’. The goal is to inspire Aotearoa to do something for conservation – because taking action benefits nature, and us as well.

This theme really made me think about my experience connecting with nature in small ways. Taking action for nature, even in small ways, can make a big difference.

Taking action from the couch – support marine conservation through online citizen science 📷: Belle Gwilliam

Some of the actions we’re encouraging people to take are:  

1) Pick up rubbish 

2) Grow a native pot-plant 

3) Support citizen science online

4) Volunteer in your local community  

If you’re self-isolating and feel well enough, you could pick up some rubbish on your neighbourhood walk, or research natives plants you could buy and how to care for them. You could also try your hand at being a citizen scientist online. 

I’ve had my morning dose of nature today — I biked to work. Watching the sun slowly light up the sky, I felt incredible.  

Nature knows the value of small moments. 

The sun rising over the Wellington harbour 📷: Me

I’ll leave you with my final reflection: 

It’s not just the big outdoor adventures that make us happy. The small, every-day connections with nature can make just as big a difference to our wellbeing.

Click here to find out how to take action this Conservation Week 5 – 11 September.