Connect with nature during Mental Health Week
During Mental Health Week, mind coach Alison Blackler, founder of Wirral-based 2minds, says connecting with nature can boost your mental health
Being mentally healthy doesn’t just mean that you don’t have a mental health problem.
Mental health, defined by the World Health Organisation, is “a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.
If you are in good mental health, you can:
- Make the most of your potential.
- Cope with life.
- Play a full part in your family, workplace, community and among friends.
Some people call mental health ‘emotional health’ or ‘well-being’ and it’s just as important as good physical health. This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, May 10 to 16, has the theme of ‘connect with nature’.
Nature has a unique ability to not only bring consolation in times of stress, but also increase our creativity, empathy and a sense of wonder. It turns out that it is not just being in nature but how we open ourselves up and interact with nature that counts.
During the long period of the lockdown, many people have turned to nature as a solution and to counteract some of the challenges like loneliness, anxiety, sadness, fear and lack of motivation.
Many people have used going for walks outside as a good coping strategy and we have valued that our green spaces are vital for our mental health. We have also heard that wildlife has also changed its habits during this time and there has been an increase in the number of nature sightings seen on webcams of more than 2000%.
What is critical for us all is to join these two things up – our desire to be outside and the fact that there is so much more to notice. It is like we are our fundamental human need to connect with nature.
Nature and our mental health
Nature is so key to our psychological and emotional health. It is known that if we will have a greater connection to the natural world, our mental health improves. For most of human history, we lived as part of nature.
Our affinity toward nature is genetic and deep-rooted in evolution. It is only in the last five generations that so many of us have lived and worked in a context that is largely separated from nature.
Nature is a free, on our doorstep, great untapped resource for our mental health and well being. There are many benefits from being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature. These include:
- Reduces negative emotions such as anger and fear.
- Relieves anxiety and depression.
- Reduces the production of stress hormones and emotional release.
- Increases pleasant feelings and promotes enjoyment.
- Contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension.
- Encourages physical activity and movement.
- Improves short term and long-term memory.
- Boosts happiness, changes mood and general well being.
- Encourages time out.
How to use the beauty of nature
A bad habit that humans have is being ‘in their head’. We often allowing our thoughts to dominate our attention and then following the trail of the thoughts give little break. Nature can be a great distraction although we need to be active and conscious in the first instance.
Being mindful involves an awareness of what’s going on around us and within us in the present moment. To achieve mindfulness in nature, it’s worth first reflecting on our current behaviours. Consider your last nature outing:
- Did you take notice of the sounds and smells around you?
- Was your mind focused on the present, the past, or the future?
- Was your phone a source of distraction?
It takes repetition and practise Look, listen, and feel:
- Listen to the sound of your footsteps, or bird song.
- Feel the strength of the wind.
- Watch squirrels running around, or the waves moving.
- Observe the movement of the clouds.
- Notice the quality of light around you.
- Touch the smooth surface of a rock, feel the tree bark, or the soft blades of grass with your feet.
- Feel the moisture of the earth, or the thickness of the air.
- Smell the pine-filled forest, or the saltiness of the sea.
Alison has launched an online self-help programme. Click here to find out more about the A Path Travelled online course.