On a call with my granddad, he told me a little anecdote. Back in the first lockdown he took a walk down to Brighton Pavilion and carried on to a beachside bench. As he sat there a couple of policemen came over and asked him why he was out. He told them he was just taking a walk and, after a good natter, they had to insist that he head back home. Of all the family lockdown stories this one stuck with me because I could feel the wind, the rocky beach, the smell of the sea, and I realised that I’ve never wanted to be outside so much before.
Mental Health Awareness week
This year the Mental Health Foundation has chosen Nature as the theme for their Mental Health Awareness Week. Why? Well, I can’t help but think the foundation has said it best themselves:
“Nature is so central to our psychological and emotional health, that it’s almost impossible to realise good mental health for all without a greater connection to the natural world.”
As of June 2021, the UK will have been in and out of lockdowns for 15 months now. For some that will have involved continued – through brutally modified – routines as essential workers. For others, it meant working from home. And some lost their jobs altogether. One thing that we all have in common, however, was the heavy restrictions on non-essential travel. Much has been said on Covid’s impact on mental health and one of the great causes is how it’s put such a hard barrier between us and our natural spaces: but can nature really reinforce our mental health and wellbeing?
Dr Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Japan’s Chiba University coined the term, ‘Forest Bathing’, to describe the proven benefits of spending extended periods of time outside. Studies have found that being outside:
- Reduces stress
- Stimulates creativity
- Lowers blood pressure
- Helps tackle anxiety and depression
- Supports healthier respiration
- Balances your circadian rhythms, which helps you sleep
Even a view of nature can be impactful. A famous case in the 1970s saw surgical patients in Pennsylvania recovered faster when they had a view of the trees outside. One theory behind this is titled ART – Attention Restoration Theory. Simply put, because nature is more intuitive and less demanding of attention than other urban environments our minds are able to shift to a more relaxed state. Think about how your eyes are drawn when walking down the high street, or worse yet, inside a shop with vibrantly coloured sales tags and carefully curated arrangements to grab and hold your attention. In nature, things are the way they are and we don’t need to focus in the same way. We can truly relax and allow ourselves to refocus.
How to enjoy nature more
It’s easy to forget how impactful the world around us is to ourselves. To be around the same four walls, with the same desk, at the same computer – it can be harmful to our mental health. So give this a try.
- Bring up a map of your current location
- Find the nearest patch of green that you can get to
- Go there and spend just 5 minutes there
It might not be so easy to find a natural space near you, but consider taking some time this weekend to travel and give it a go. You might just surprise yourself.
You can find out more information about 2021’s mental health awareness week here.
If you would like to find out what support your professional body provides, have a look at our article.