I love that the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is nature.
I’ve always felt the calming and therapeutic benefits of being out in nature, and make it an important part of my daily routine.
The concept of connecting to nature is also an integral part of all of our workshops and courses. It was a really important element to include as we were deciding on the three pillars that would form the basis of our work:
Creativity: Doing more of what makes you happy, and using creative activities to break down the barriers to living as our authentic selves.
Self-Care: prioritising our own mental health and wellbeing, by making time for the things that matter and aiming for a balanced life.
Connection: Re-connecting to ourselves. Connecting to others, to nature, and to the world.
Looking for inspiration? Get outside in nature.
Need to put your troubles in perspective? Go out and look up to the sky.
Have a dilemma to solve? Go for a walk.
It’s so simple yet so effective.
Not only does being outside in nature have a way of grounding us, it somehow manages to shift our mindset, get us unstuck and helps to reset our thinking too.
The Mental Health Foundation talk about this idea of ‘Connectedness’.
“Connectedness refers to the way we relate to nature and experience nature. A strong connection with nature means feeling a close relationship or an emotional attachment to our natural surroundings.”
So how do we feel this ‘connectedness’ in our day to day lives.
Here are a few simple ways:
1. If you’re at home during the day, take a coffee break in the garden, or even just sitting on your doorstep. Sit quietly and breathe in the air. What can you smell? What can you see? What can you hear?
2. Plant something and watch it grow. It could be some vegetable seeds, flowers in a window box or a tomato plant.
3. Use the equipment in the park to exercise. Many parks now have gym equipment, and those that don’t will still have benches and other fixed features you can use to help you train outdoors. Head to your local park and try out some exercises.
4. Take some photos. I have an endless collection of random photos of dry stone walls, broken gates, daffodils, cows and sheep.
5. Plan a nature hunt for your own/neighbourhood children.
6. Find a road or a footpath you’ve never been down before and set off exploring.
7. Volunteer in a community garden or allotment.
During the lockdowns in the UK, it has felt at times like all we were able to do was go for a walk, and it’s very easy to feel restricted by that. But there has also been something liberating about leaving the car at home and taking an almost enforced daily walk in your local area. I’ve found paths and houses and fields that I never knew existed. I’ve seen areas of the town I’ve lived in most of my life for the very first time. I’ve reconnected with nature, remembered to look up at the sky and, since getting a dog, embraced getting outside whatever the weather!
Studies show that aerobic exercise can be as effective as anti-depressants in treating mild to moderate depression.
When we are feeling down or fed-up, or busy or anxious, it’s easier to stay indoors. I love being at home, it is my favourite place in the world. But I also know it doesn’t actually do me any good to stay locked up at home, hiding from the world.
So however you do it, a walk, a jog, even just sitting in the garden or on a park bench, it’s important for our overall mental health that we get outside every single day.
If you live in a built up area or work in a city centre, you can still take a few minutes out at lunchtime to walk round the block. There are bits of nature and green spaces everywhere, even in the busiest cities. And wherever you are, even if you don’t love your neighbourhood or town, there is always the sky. Try going outside in the late evening and looking up at the sky. For me that is one of the fastest and most powerful ways of reconnecting to the world and putting my everyday worries back into perspective.
You will never ever get back from a walk, wishing you hadn’t bothered. Never.
Try it today, go for a walk in your local area, and then when it gets dark tonight, spend a few minutes looking up at the night sky, and write down how it makes you feel.