Mental Health Awareness Week is hosted every year by the Mental Health Foundation. The aim of the week is to start conversations about mental health, encourage us to check in with others, and to learn about the changes we can all make to improve our wellbeing.
This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week runs from Monday 10th May to Sunday 16th May 2021, and the focus of the week is ‘nature’.
At a time when we’ve been confined to our homes, connecting with nature has been an important coping strategy for many over the last year. But the pandemic has also highlighted the unequal access to nature in the UK, with those of us living in cities, or without a garden, having less opportunity to explore green spaces.
For this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re exploring how we can use nature to nurture our mental health, and how we can all experience the benefits of nature, whatever our location.
How can I better connect with nature?
Being in nature has been found to have a huge range of benefits for our mental and physical health. It can reduce feelings of stress, isolation and anxiety, create a sense of calm, and improve mood. Spending time in nature often involves us getting physically active, meaning that we can combine the physical and mental benefits of exercise with those of nature.
Experts have found that it’s not just how much time we spend in nature that impacts our mental health, but how we choose to interact with nature. Just a few minutes of being in, or watching nature, has been proven to have positive effects. By focusing on things that are happening around us, we are less likely to become caught up in our own thoughts, thereby reducing feelings of stress and anxiety.
To fully reap the benefits of nature, try to spend some time in nature each day without distractions. Put your phone on silent, leave your headphones behind, and use all of your senses to pay close attention to what’s around you. If you don’t have time to step outside, why not spend two minutes looking out the window, noting five things that you can see or hear? Try to be mindful of how these sights and sounds make you feel.
Another way we can reap the benefits of nature is by sharing our experiences with others. By doing so, we’re more likely to continue making the effort to appreciate the natural world, while sharing the mental health benefits of nature with those closest to us. If you’re walking with someone, point out something that’s caught your eye. When catching up with friends, why not tell them about a recent walk you’ve been on, or ask for their recommended routes?
What if I don’t have much access to nature?
If you don’t have a garden, there are still ways to bring nature to you! Try putting a plant on your windowsill, or a bird feeder on your window. These objects could also remind you to look outside more regularly and be more mindful of the nature outside your window.
Nature documentaries have also been found to have a positive impact on our mental health, with effects including lower levels of anxiety, reduced tiredness, and a greater sense of calm. Luckily for us, this means that we can still get a dose of nature and the positive mental health benefits it brings, even if we’re unable to leave the house. Taking the time to watch documentaries can also improve our understanding of important environmental issues and learn why it’s so important that we protect nature and the planet.
Bringing the smells and sounds of the outside world into our homes can also help boost our mood. For example, lavender oil has been found to lead to better sleep quality, and can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Similarly, listening to birdsong has also been found to have a soothing and relaxing impact. You can easily find examples of birdsong on YouTube, while the Calm app includes natural noises in their meditation exercises, meaning you can combine the benefits of mindfulness with those of nature.
Nature might also be closer than you think. The Wildlife Trusts website allows you to find nature reserves near you: perfect for finding new ideas for day trips, especially while the weather is getting warmer!