It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week (10-16 May) and the theme this year is nature. Our Senior Clinical Psychologist, Stephanie Jones, wanted to share how nature can help with your mental health.
What is mental health?
Everyone has mental health. If our mental health is good, we feel good, we feel we are able to look after ourselves and engage with all of the things we care about. When we are struggling with our mental health, it can give us overwhelming feelings of being unable to cope and our daily lives become difficult to manage. Mental health is just as important as our physical health.
Did you know?
Every week in the UK, at least one in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem, such as anxiety and depression . Sadly, this figure is likely to have risen during the last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Government’s COVID-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing Surveillance Report, mental distress among adults was around 8% higher in April 2020 than it had been in previous years. The proportion of people experiencing sleep problems also rose from 16% to 25% during the first national lockdown .
We know that anyone can experience difficulties with their mental health, but factors such as bereavement, isolation and lack of social support that are common during a pandemic can make each of us more vulnerable.
So, how can we look after our mental health and wellbeing?
Research has shown that spending time and interacting with nature can be, not only enjoyable, but also benefit and enhance our wellbeing by reducing feelings of stress and anxiety. Even by simply viewing images of the natural environment this can also help us to relax. One study by Harvard Medical School compared the brain activity of healthy people who had walked for 90 minutes in either a rural or urban environment. The study found those participants who undertook a rural nature walk had lower activity levels in the part of the brain usually associated with repetitive negative thinking or rumination.
With spring in the air, this mental health awareness week offers us an ideal opportunity to enjoy nature and explore the benefits for our psychological health and wellbeing. Nature can be found wherever we are; you do not need to go hiking in the forest to enjoy it. A quick lunchtime walk around your local park, even if you are working in an urban city will help.
One of the best ways to get the most from spending time outdoors is to practice mindfulness. Being mindful means choosing to pay attention to the present moment on purpose and in a non-judgmental way; disengaging the auto-pilot of daily life and appreciating our surroundings for the first time, as if each thing is new.
You could choose to look more closely at the patterns on a leaf, the colours of a flower or the shape of a cloud. You might stop to listen to the rustling of the trees, the sound of raindrops or the singing of a bird. Why not take the time to feel the ground beneath your feet, the grass between your toes or the sun on your face? Each time your mind wanders, as minds always do, gently escort it back to the present moment, as a shepherd would guide a wayward sheep.
The World Wildlife Fund and the Mental health Foundation have come together to produce a free guide to Thriving in Nature. This guide helps you make the most of the UK’s natural spaces for your mental health and wellbeing. You will find it packed with inspiration and information as well as being a useful resource to help you connect with nature throughout the year.
You can down the free guide from:
The Welcoming Path by Thich Nhat Hanh
The empty path welcomes you,
Fragrant with grass and little flowers,
The path paved with paddy fields
Still bearing the marks of your childhood
And the fragrance of mother’s hand.
Walk leisurely, peacefully.
Your feet touch the Earth deeply.
Don’t let your thoughts carry you away,
Come back to the path every moment.
The path will transmit to you
And her peace.
Why not spend this week getting out in nature and enjoy your surroundings?
[1} McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016).
Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult psychiatric morbidity survey 2014.
 COVID-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing Surveillance Report, April 2021.
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-mental-health-and-wellbeing-surveillance-report/2-important-findings-so-far Sour mood getting you down? Get back to Nature. Harvard Medoca; Schoo, July 2018