Nature is the best medicine

Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual event that presents an opportunity to focus on achieving good mental health. It has been hosted by the Mental Health Foundation for the last 21 years and this year’s theme is nature. Since the pandemic, there's clear evidence that access to nature is crucial for our mental health, where we've seen millions of people rediscover the beauty in our own surroundings during lockdown.  
 

 
The week provides us with a great opportunity to explore what the barriers to accessing nature are, and ensure that everyone is able to share in the natural world and experience its mental health benefits. Sustainability Manager and Mental Health First Aider, Derek Walter, tells us why nature is often the best medicine for mental health.

“Good mental health is one of the most important things in life, yet it's rarely spoken about and is often treated as a taboo subject; however the more we talk about it, the healthier we become. Stress is a major contributor to poor mental health so it is vitally important that we all manage our stress levels daily.

“My coping mechanism for stress is to maximise my use of nature in my surrounding area, whether that is a run through the countryside after work, a walk by the river at lunchtime or a trip to the allotment. They all have a beneficial effect that always makes me feel so much better. My top tips for enjoying nature would be:

Unplug from social media
 

“Taking a break from your phone gives you the opportunity to focus on yourself and enjoy what's around you, by getting outside for a walk in nature. You are rarely a few miles from open countryside, town garden or water feature so make a date with nature. There are many great benefits; vitamin D boosting sunshine, fresh air, exercise to get the blood pumping, the sound of birds, the list is endless. It doesn't have to be long to take an effect, even with a spare 10 minutes at lunchtime – taking your lunch outside will do you the world of good to get away from the workplace stresses for a short time.

“I recently visited the National Trust Courts Gardens and taking in all the scenery and flowers slows your walking pace and calms you down. When I left the garden I felt like a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Energy boost

“Cancel the gym membership, save money and go outdoors to exercise. Running, cycling and hiking are all ideal and cheaper than many gyms. Check out your local parks, gardens and other outside spaces and use these to exercise in and soak up the natural world at the same time.

Become a conservation volunteer

“Volunteer for a conservation group or similar. Make friends, enjoy nature and give back to your community.

Find a new hobby

“Taking up an outdoor hobby is a great way to spend your spare time and unwind from your daily routines. I have an allotment and I use that as my 'quiet time' to get away from other stresses. I have my camping chair there so sometimes I take a flask of coffee and have more breaks than actual work.

“Everyone is different so these suggestions may not be for everyone, but I would still urge you to get outside in nature as much as possible as the relaxation potential is outstanding. I hope you enjoy.”

To find out more on ways to be involved for Mental Health Awareness Week, and to explore nature visit: www.mentalhealth.org