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The 10th – 16th May marks Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual awareness campaign that has been run by the Mental Health Foundation for more than 20 years. This year, in 2021, it seems more important than ever to draw our focus to the importance of mental heath and wellbeing – which can be difficult enough to balance in times of normality, let alone during a global pandemic crisis.
This year’s focus for the campaign is nature, which is incredibly apt given that nature has been our one constant as a community throughout lockdown. Whilst social venues, home gatherings, places of work and shops have all been forced to shut, nature – outdoor adventures, park visits, simple strolls in our local nature reserve, even days spent in our own gardens – has been one of the few respite opportunities we’ve all been able to fall back on.
This year, the Mental Health Foundation are encouraging people to talk openly about their own struggles with mental health, and exploring the positive effects that being outside can have on our mental health, using the hashtag #ConnectWithNature. According to a survey published by the foundation, 7 out of 10 UK adults said that being close to nature improves their mood, and almost half of all UK adults surveyed said it made them feel less worried and anxious.
Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation Mark Rowland said:
“During the pandemic, millions of us discovered nature’s power to relieve stress, worry, anxiety and restore us with positive emotions, such as joy.
“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 it’s beauty and absorb its sights, sounds and scents.”
So how can we harness nature’s power to help us better cope with the stresses and worries of everyday life?
First of all – you needn’t go far if you don’t want to. Nature is present in your own garden if you have one, or even on your own windowsill if you don’t. You could try growing your own food (check out our article on getting started right here) or simply focus on tending your flowerbeds. If you don’t have access to a garden or allotment, you could plant herbs or salad leaves in a window box, or invest in a selection of inexpensive houseplants to help bring a little greenery into your day-to-day life.
If you’re more of a homebody, and the idea of venturing out doesn’t appeal, you could challenge yourself to bring more of nature into your home. Think a vase of fresh flowers, or an art project that incorporates tree bark, leaves or seeds. You could even create a display showcasing your favourite nature photography, or add these images to your phone and computer as screen savers.
Do you have a comfy spot with a good window view to your garden, or the sky outside? If not, consider a furniture reshuffle, and enjoy a quiet moment or two watching the birds on the neighbours’ rooftops, or the goings-on in your own garden. You could also check out nature sounds playlists and YouTube videos, for another great way to immerse yourself in a moment of tranquility at home.
If you do want to venture further afield, try taking a walk in your local green space, whether that’s the park around the corner, or a nearby nature reserve. You could plan for some solid time spent outdoors by packing up your lunch and a good book to enjoy outside on a good-weather day, or even taking your journal or a few art supplies to sketch the things you can see. If you’d prefer to indulge in nature after nightfall, why not check out a stargazing app or website, and look up at the night sky?
However you choose to embrace nature, do your best to be mindful in the moment; feel the wind on your skin… if you’re feeling brave, slip off your footwear and feel the grass between your toes! Close your eyes and listen to the birdsong or the rustle of the leaves. Shift your focus from where you are going, or what you need to do later on, to just immersing yourself in the moment you are in. If you suffer from an overactive mind, you could try picking out one thing in your immediate environment – a flower, a tree, a pinecone – and focusing intently on it. Smell it, touch it, inspect it… exercises like this can help clear a busy mind, and encourage a valuable moment of mindfulness.
Mental health and wellbeing is an important issue all year round, not just during mental Health Awareness Week, so be sure to reach out to those around you to offer or ask for support if it’s needed, and know that the more conversations we have around mental health, the less likely people will be to struggle through in silence.