The light, the fresh air and the trees. Nature is a miraculous thing and some studies show that it can have powerful healing properties, such as enhancing the immune system and improving mood. it helps us breathe by producing oxygen, it helps tackle global warming by consuming CO2 and so much more.
For that purpose, the theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week, which started on Monday, May 10, is nature, in the hopes of educating people about how beneficial nature can be in maintaining our mental health.
According to a recent study by the Mental Health Foundation, nearly half of the 4,274 UK adults polled said being near nature helped them cope with stress, and 70% said it improved their mood.
Furthermore, four out of ten adults said that being near nature made them feel less nervous.
Discussing the benefits of nature, Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said,
‘Nature can be a powerful ally in protecting our mental health, preventing distress and ensuring good mental wellbeing. While nature won’t solve all our problems – prioritising time in nature can really help support good mental health.’
‘However, the most important thing is the quality of the experience, and feeling like we connect with nature by trying to notice its beauty and absorb its sights, sounds and scents.’
Clarity, Alignment & Confidence Coach Danny Sangha also spoke of the benefits nature can have on a person’s mental health.
Danny told UNILAD:
There is (at long last!) some scientific evidence beginning to confirm the benefits that being in nature can have upon our minds and general well-being. The benefits are vast; positive changes in behavior, our mood, reducing levels of stress and anxiety.Furthermore, surrounding yourself in nature can also help to strengthen our attention span and ability to focus, given that we are forced to stop and admire specific details that nature presents to us – from intricate designs of plants to the way that wildlife seems to work in its own fascinating way.
Danny went on to say that nature should be emphasized almost as much as exercise as a tool for mental wellbeing. He elaborated:
‘While exercise is really good from a physiology perspective; elevating the heart rate and releasing lots of beneficial hormones and chemicals within the body, experiencing nature is in contrast a more gentle and calmer approach to improving mental health. It will help to calm the mind, quieten the internal noise and allow for some clarity of thought and focus on the present.’
Ali Smith is one person who has discovered that nature has greatly aided her mental health in recent months, to the point that she has relocated from London to a more rural location. Ali has transitioned from an accountant to a professional dog walker in the midst of the pandemic.
Ali told UNILAD,
‘I was worried about the pandemic and my mental health, especially as the lockdowns meant I couldn’t work or be out in nature as much as I might have liked. It felt like my world had become constricted. Before the pandemic I felt like I had all the local parks at my disposal and that I was able to be where I wanted to be, but the lockdown threatened that.’
Ali took her German Shepherd out twice a day on nearby country routes as a way of coping while still living in London, which she credits with keeping her mental health in check.
Ali explained why she turned to nature during such a difficult year:
I find nature is more where I’m meant to be. I feel happier surrounded by trees (even if my hay fever hates it sometimes!), and it makes me feel more centered. I know that when I’m out there, COVID isn’t an issue I need to worry about, as I don’t really need to be in close contact with anyone at any time.
Nature helps me get perspective and, not to mention, escape the news! Whack on a podcast, pop one headphone in and go see the bluebells sprout amongst the forest floor.
Ali has also started her own vegetable garden after moving from London to Maryland, which she claims has helped her control her mental health recently. Ali claims that being closer to nature was a "huge component" of her decision to leave the area.
She further added:
‘I feel I was fighting my own nature by trying to make London work for me. Everything about it, the coldness and the corporate-ness of it just went against the grain for me and it led me down a really dark path that I don’t ever want to visit again. I felt so lost there, like my purpose wasn’t being met, and I was doing everything that I had been set up for. I didn’t realise how much I needed that green space that London rarely offers.’
Ali is now "living in the middle of nowhere" in the United States, surrounded by deer and vineyards.
Ali claims that after ‘reuniting with nature,' she feels ‘mentally safe.' Ali added that being outside and exercising more as part of her work has also aided her.
Gemma Birbeck has also relied on nature to support her mental health during the pandemic. During the pandemic, Gemma, Director at Loaded PR, said she "didn't feel [her]self" and had to keep up with the ongoing, gloomy news because of her work, which contributed to her suffering from low mood.
Gemma was also under the strain of working from home while home-schooling her son, as were several other parents during lockdown.
She told UNILAD that:
‘With only one hour a day of exercise and essential trips to the shop permitted, I found myself craving the outdoors. We did renovate our garden so that we could spend more time outside, but it wasn’t the same after a while. Over time, I began to feel like I was cooped up, congested and lacking essential vitamins, and had this overwhelming desire to be surrounded by greenery and nature.’
‘I’d find a new place to walk locally, but it needed to have trees or water for reasons I can’t explain. I guess it gave me a sense of escapism as all we’d known for months is our local village full of shops and houses
In addition to spending more time outside, Gemma began bringing nature into her home by purchasing house plants and painting her bedroom walls in various shades of greens, browns, and oranges, which she claims made a ‘enormous' difference.
I think the good thing about nature is it helps you reconnect, and if you find the right place to enjoy then it can really help you refocus and feel revitalised. I’ve always been one for things such as holistic therapies and recently turned vegan, so it made sense to me that nature could also be healing.
In late 2020, when things had reopened and we were allowed to travel, we made the decision to try wild camping for the first time. We headed to a specialist campsite which had plots within the forest and it was amazing. Going back to basics and spending the weekend in a forest reenergised all of us and I personally felt my mood had lifted.
Danny encouraged people to take advantage of the outdoors in light of Mental Health Awareness Week's theme of nature and the evidence that it can improve people's mental health.
‘Look for open parks, forests, coastal locations or relatively isolated but green locations that you can spend some time walking through. Switch your phone to silent or even better switch it to airplane mode to allow yourself to get fully absorbed in the present. As you walk, use as many of your senses to capture the surroundings, such as the sights and smells that you are experiencing.
Ending his words, he said:
Be fully present and observant to the wildlife, plants and whatever else you may find on your way. You’ll find yourself so focussed on the present that your mind is able to switch off from your stresses and pressures and allow it to perform a reset, so to speak,
The Mental Health Foundation has also compiled a list of tips of how you can connect with nature, which you can read here.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
Article Source: unilad.co.uk