Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 – Reconnect with Nature
Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 runs this week, from 10-16 May. During the pandemic, millions of us have experienced a mental health problem, or seen a friend or loved one struggle during the lengthy lockdowns.
The theme for this year is ‘Nature’. Over the past year, we’ve largely seen more of the four walls of our homes than the great outdoors. But as we head into late spring and into easing out of lockdown, NOW is the perfect time to reconnect with and visit with Mother Nature!
A study by the Mental Health Foundation found that:
- Seven in ten UK adults (70 per cent) said being close to nature improves their mood according to a new survey into its effects on mental health
- Almost two thirds of UK adults (65 per cent) said that being close to nature made them feel positive emotions such as joy, calm and wonder
- Almost half of UK adults (49 per cent) said being close to nature helps them cope with stress
- More than four in ten UK adults (44 per cent) said it made them feel less worried and anxious.
Movement IS medicine
Time spent walking in nature is hugely beneficial to our health. ‘Green exercise’ (physical activity performed in nature – like walking, cycling, boating, conservation activities) is hugely beneficial and has been shown to have a very positive effect on several stress-related states like anger, confusion, depression and anxiety.
In Japan, Forest Bathing – visiting a forest for relaxation and recreation while breathing in volatile, antimicrobial wood essential oils – has now become a recognised relaxation and/or stress management activity. Its health benefits and sensory effects on sight, sound, smell and touch are being studied.
Move it - or lose it!
Getting out and moving our bodies in nature is THE perfect way to improve our mental health and wellbeing. Picture our ancestors' long days in nature, just being human. No worries. No mortgages, credit cards, traffic jams. No office desks, computers, devices.
Our modern lives not only chronically stresses our bodies, but keeps us chronically sedentary and sitting still - all day long.
Lack of physical activity has a huge impact on our physical and mental health. Moving regularly not only protects us from disease, it prevents oxidative damage and inflammation – the primary mechanisms underlying heart disease and most modern, degenerative diseases. And connection with nature - being, moving IN nature - promotes mental wellbeing, connection and happiness.
“Nature can be a powerful ally in protecting our mental health, preventing distress and ensuring good mental wellbeing.
“During the pandemic, millions of us discovered nature’s power to relieve stress, worry, anxiety and restore us with positive emotions, such as joy. While nature won’t solve all our problems – prioritising time in nature can really help support good mental health.”
- Mark Rowland, Chief Executive, Mental Health Foundation
5 Ways to Wellbeing
Mental Health UK have devised a ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’ campaign in which we can immerse ourselves while reconnecting with nature. Simply put, we need to:
Connect - family, friends, colleagues, community: these are the cornerstones of our lives and developing these connections will help support us every single day.
Be Active - as discussed above, regular activity in nature will reduce depression and anxiety, as well as releasing feel-good hormones. There’s no need to be a fitness fanatic, just find something to suit your level of fitness and mobility.
Take Notice - look around, notice simple things and be ‘in the moment’ - reflection on these experiences will help you appreciate what really matter to YOU.
Keep Learning - try something different or rediscover a forgotten interest. Sign up for a new course - the challenge of something new gives a great sense of fulfilment.
Give - goodwill, time, money, gifts - helping others promotes wellbeing for all of us. The key is to look outwards, as well as inwards.
Find out ways you can get involved with the ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’ campaign here.
Mother Nature's playground: green spaces
Spending time in green spaces (or bringing nature into your everyday life), especially if we can do this in community with family and friends, can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing. Growing food or flowers, exercising outdoors or being around animals can have hugely positive effects. It can:
- improve our mood
- reduce feelings of stress or anger
- help us take time out and feel more relaxed
- improve our physical health
- improve our confidence and self-esteem
- help us be more active
- help us make new connections.
Just remember - find YOUR level. There’s no need to climb mountains or organise a jungle trek! Those simple steps will bring big benefits. This download from the Mental Health Foundation is a great resource to point you in the right direction and you build your own connection with nature.
InYourArea is running a series of pieces exploring different aspects of mental health, including where you can get help and more importantly, hearing from those helping people, and being open about the issues we can face ourselves.
Your FOOD matters to your MOOD
Finally, let's not forget the growing and compelling evidence that our overall diet and the nutrition derived from the phytonutrients found in colourful foods, can either support or completely undermine our mental as well as our physical health:
In this recent article on phytonutrients and mental health, the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) point out:
"Micronutrient malnutrition, or deficiencies in one or more crucial vitamins or minerals, may negatively impact both physical and mental health and potentially lead to chronic illness. To compound the issue, chronic psychological and environmental stress may negatively impact micronutrient concentrations in the body, leading to micronutrient depletion.
In a time when stress-related statistics indicate significantly higher symptoms of anxiety and depression in the US due to the pandemic, a nutrient-dense diet made up of foods full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients can be a powerful tool in promoting mental wellness and combating chronic disease."
For more information on the role and importance of phytonutrients in our diet, read my article Ditch the Beige and Eat a Rainbow.
THE REAL FOOD SOLUTION
Our risk for contracting communicable diseases such as viral infections increases when our immune system is weak... and a weakened immune system is largely the result of a less than optimal diet and an unsupportive lifestyle.
Even as we are experiencing the long-term health effects of this current crisis, we are also seeing underlying epidemics of chronic diseases of every kind – diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, degenerative, digestive and autoimmune disorders and mental health issues across the globe. These conditions too, are largely diet and lifestyle-driven and they are preventable.
We need to act now
We have robust science to show us that what we eat has never been more important for our health and, because all life is inextricably connected, for our planet. The Real Food Solution will help you to discover the power of real food as medicine for better health… for you AND for our planet.
Pandemic crises are a test our humanity… let’s stop queuing up for loo rolls and start creating a strong, resilient foundation of immune health… together.
Stay safe, stay informed and get empowered!