For the last 21 years the Mental Health Foundation has made sure that for one week, every year, we dedicate our time to understanding, helping and supporting mental health. Of course, mental health is – for many – a daily struggle (one in four adults experience mental health). One week isn’t enough to highlight the true severity of mental health, let alone even begin to peel back the extra layers of complexity the global pandemic has added. Though it has highlighted one thing: the importance of nature.
So, it’s only fitting that this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme is NATURE. But what is it about nature that helps us feel so much better? It is the act of walking (and therefore exercising) or is it simply just being outside?
Rebecca Lockwood, Neuro Linguistic Programming, Hypnotherapy and Coach Trainer tells us that simply being outside can help us feel more connected: “It doesn’t necessarily have to be physical activity. Going for a slow walk or sitting in the garden can also contribute to a healthy mind and body.” From the plants to the wildlife, by going outside we give ourselves something else to focus on: “We live much of our existence in a frantic, busy world, whereas when we embrace nature we find stillness and peace,” adds Floss Knight, Psychotherapist and Founding Director of UK Therapy Guide. Floss is one of those people who embraces nature in every way – sunshine or rain. In fact, running in the rain is one of her favourite ways to expel frustrations. So, that brings me back to my question, exercise, nature, or both?
Exercise has been linked to having a positive effect on our mental health for a very long time. Specialists say it can help combat depression, reduce anxiety, boost our mood and in some cases our self-confidence. But how? According to Danny Sangha, Clarity, Alignment & Confidence Coach: “Exercise causes our adrenaline levels to rise, which in turn raises our heart beat and increases the blood flow around the body, helping to get oxygen to the muscles as required.
“When we exercise, our breath rate also increases to support the intake of as much oxygen as possible through faster and deeper breathing. This releases various hormones and chemicals within the body, such as serotonin and dopamine (also known as happy hormones), which help to make us feel better.”
So exercise really can have quite a big effect on how we feel. But if you don’t want to exercise, that’s OK. Some days we just really don’t feel like it, even moving from our bed feels like a challenge. Recognise that feeling? On the days we feel like this, that’s when it’s even more important to take ourselves outside. You don’t need to run, or even walk very far. Find yourself a bench, a nice patch of grass – lie down if you can – and allow yourself to take in all of nature’s wonders: absorb the natural light, feel the heat from the sun (if there is any). Appreciate the wildlife, listen to the birds. What can you smell? Allow all your senses to awaken. And breath…