#MentalHealthAwarenessWeek starts on 10 May this year with nature as the chosen theme. At first glance, this might be viewed as somewhat tangential to the key subject but once we investigate a little deeper, we can see that it is ideal given the events of the past 12 months.
I think we are all aware of the effect that the various lockdowns and restrictions have had on our own mental health and society in general. Humans are social animals, most of us work best when we can interact with family, friends, workmates, even strangers. The pandemic has reduced much of this interaction to telephone and video calls. Important personal and social events; birthdays, marriages, funerals, anniversaries have all been disrupted and have been very muted when compared to what we would have planned and hoped for. The pandemic has affected us all and our mental health to a greater or lesser extent.
Throughout the various lockdowns one thing has been constant, we have all been encouraged to get outside and exercise – run, jog, walk, cycle – the important thing has been getting outside. Not all of us live in the countryside but the UK is fortunate that even in our biggest cities we have plenty of parks and green spaces allowing us all to connect with nature. Getting outside enjoying fresh air and nature is important. It is a way in which we can enhance our personal mental wellbeing. In the days before the pandemic, when we could enjoy (or even put up with) air travel we were used to hearing, “please ensure that you put on your own oxygen mask before looking to help others”. The same is true of mental health – we need to look after our own mental wellbeing before we can successfully support each other. Getting out into nature is a great way to improve personal mental health.
So, what is so great about nature?
Personally, I think it taps into something very deep inside us as humans. We might like to think that we are sophisticated, civilised, urbanised beings but deep down we are still very close to our hunter-gatherer roots, a people who relied on nature for their very existence. Being “in” nature reminds us that we are part of a planetary ecosystem and can allow us to forget everyday pressures and simply enjoy the moment. There are lots and lots of ways we can do this, we can adapt it to suit our own tastes. Some of us like to walk through a park listening to music, others prefer silence so they can hear the birdsong and the trees rustling in the wind.
But it is not just about walking through parks or the countryside. You can enhance your mental health in your own back garden or even a window box. There are significant mental wellbeing benefits in gardening and/or looking after house plants. The Royal Horticultural Society points out that numerous scientific studies have explored how plants impact human wellbeing. They suggest that indoor plants offer two potential benefits: improved mental wellbeing and improved physical human health (i.e. they support fitness and general health).
Proven psychological benefits of indoor plants include an improved mood, reduced stress levels, increased worker productivity (adding plants to offices and in the current situation working from home environments) and improved attention span. While from a physical health perspective there can be a reduction in blood pressure, fatigue and occurrence of headaches. Since physical and mental wellbeing are intrinsically linked, looking after plants is a “double whammy!”
Engaging with nature is a great way to support your mental wellbeing. #mentalhealthawarenessweek just happens to occur during spring in the UK so why not take advantage of the lengthening days and enjoy what nature has to offer. Whether it is just a stroll past daffodils in the park, watching new born lambs gambol in the countryside or tidying up your own back garden. The key is to relax, take it all in, be kind to yourself and boost your mental wellbeing.
Photo by Mattioli Woods' Georgina Sebastianelli. Location: Brighton.