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  • Writer's pictureMike Douglas

Mental Health Awareness Week & The Outdoors

It's this years Mental Health Awareness Week! Or rather it will be, as I am writing this one week before MHAW.

**Check me out in my local Mind's material for MHAW**

During this year's Mental Health Awareness Week, 10th to 16th May, there will be a focus on the outdoors and on nature. Something that has been so important and valuable to those of us that have been able to access it in the last year. It has definitely been a year to appreciate any and all the garden, porch and or balcony space you have.

Nature and the outdoors have been so important during the last year and throughout the pandemic. During 2020 and in much of 2021 (so far) out outdoors has been a luxury. Or thats how I've seen it. We have had restrictions that have meant we have had to stay at home, or severely limit our moments and social interactions; making the outdoors (at least seem) less accessible.

I've always felt the outdoors was an important wellbeing tool/ support, but I think this year has been a reminder just how much impact it and have. As I've avoided traveling to lovely locations and even more local outdoor spaces that may be popular (as so too busy for me).

Mind the mental health charity, along with many other mental health focused charities and projects, have reported on research they've carried out and stated the positive impact nature can have on our wellbeing.

It's also a reminder, isn't it. We don't all have it the same. I have a lovely garden to look out at and to (when the weather is nice) sit in. Not everyone has a garden, or outdoor space at home. I think of all years, it's most notable and most impactful this year.

Hopefully you have had opportunities to get outside to walk, run, sit, be present, to feel the sun on your face or the wind in your hair. This week is a great time to reflect on how you use the outdoors and nature to support your wellbeing and maybe consider some new ways to interact with it.

If you are asking yourself, "can nature really affect my mental health?" Then here's a few points to consider from the various research mentioned above.

Spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. For example, doing things like growing flowers, plants, foods, or exercising outdoors can have lots of positive effects. Thats not even mentioning outdoor pets. These things can:

  • Improve your mood

  • Reduce feelings of stress or anger

  • Help you take time out and feel more relaxed

  • Improve your physical health

  • Improve your confidence and self esteem

  • Help you to be more active

  • Help you make new connections

Spending time outside in nature has regularly been reported to have positive impacts on people affected by depression and anxiety (again Mind, Mental Health Foundation, Samaritans and more). Being outside in natural light can also be helpful if you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The outside is helpful to other aspects of health and mental illness, but these are the most commonly reported.

If you're thinking of trying something outdoors this week, but not sure where to start maybe:

  • Move an indoor activity outdoors

  • Bring some of the outdoors indoors, creating a green space with flowers or small plants

  • Maybe you could look into starting to grow a food or new plant

  • Spend time with your pets

  • Make your outside space at home more welcoming for you

If these are your first outdoor activities for a while, start small and ask for support if you need it. Sometimes you need to move big things, mentally, physically or both!

Do things you find relaxing and acknowledge there will likely be highs and lows. Find what works for you.

I have been thinking about the things that have supported my wellbeing in the last year in regards to outside and nature. I think the top things would be:

  • Walking - getting outside even for a short while has been so important for my wellbeing.

  • Running - a knee injury has meant Ive run less than I would have liked, but its still been a great stress releaser.

  • Mobile apps - I have sporadically used Geocaching and Pokemon Go this year. honestly I haven't gone out enough to use them more than a couple of times. But they will be tools in my pocket for 2021/2022.

  • Lunch in the garden - when the weather is nice this is a lovely break from screens and an opportunity to get outside, sit back listen to the birds or maybe a podcast.

  • Photography - The golden hour can be an amazing motivation to capture and appreciate nature. But anytime of day you'll find something beautiful very close to home. This year most if not all my photos are from home or within a 3 mile radius of home.

  • Forest Bathing - I haven't actually done this during the pandemic because of either distance to travel or concern about the busyness of a location. But it is something Ill be returning to as soon as I can.

There's lots you can do, and fortunately we seem to gradually be opening our society back up. So it's a great time to look out for new things to try and utilise the outside space that's near to you. Hopefully soon we can travel a little further afield to a national park, the seafront and all the other lovely places. But for now, if you are still at home, I am sure there's still plenty you could try. Maybe check out other Mental Health Awareness Week posts, ideas and conversations to discover more?

As always I think awareness weeks and days are great prompts for conversations, but if you are not ready or this doesn't feel like the right time for you; that's fine. You can have these conversations any day, any time.

If you are worried or would like to check in on a friend this could be a great week/ prompt to ask some open questions and provide a kind non judgemental space for a conversation.


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