We all have mental health, just like we all have physical health. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re less good.
Sometimes we have a temporary blip with our physical health: maybe a slightly sore back, or a stiff neck, or tired leg muscles from lots of exercise. Or we might have a cold or headache. None of these are taboo topics and are frequently comfortably discussed between friends and work colleagues and broadcast on social media.
But if you have a temporary or ongoing blip with your mental health, it can feel very difficult to mention it to friends, family, colleagues, or talk about it on social media.
Just as with our physical health, we can have a temporary low mood for a day or two, or feel stressed or anxious perhaps before an interview or during a difficult time in work. Or we might have a longer term period of feeling down, with varying degrees of depression, stress or anxiety. In all these cases, as with physical health, there are things that we can do to help ourselves, and things the health and medical profession can help with.
Some tips and activities for good mental health work can be effective as prevention as well as during times of lower mood. I find having a short meditation/mindfulness practice, and getting outside every day, help me keep a balanced mind.
In recent years there have been many campaigns and efforts to remove the stigma associated with mental health. It really is just another part of holistic health and wellbeing.
The month of May sees a variety of these campaigns coinciding (in the UK). From 10th-16th May it is Mental Health Awareness Week with the theme of nature. It’s also Green Health Week in Scotland, and May is also National Walking Month.
The outdoors is good for us
All of these awareness weeks/months focus on nature and getting outside. This is not only good for our physical health but also our mental health. There is growing evidence about the benefits to our physical and mental health of ‘green or blue’ spaces. (Blue spaces are things like rivers, lakes and ponds).
For example, the Mental Health Foundation’s research found that during the coronavirus pandemic going for walks outside was one of the top coping strategies and 45% of those surveyed reported that being in green spaces had been vital for their mental health.
Nature can “not only bring consolation in times of stress, but also increase our creativity, empathy and a sense of wonder. It turns out that it is not just being in nature but how we open ourselves up and interact with nature that counts. … even small contacts with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health, and preventing distress.”Mental Health Foundation
There is a long list of physical and mental benefits of walking: did you know it can help reduce the likelihood of dementia?
“An older person who walks six or more miles a week is less likely to have problems such as dementia. This is because walking has been proven to prevent your brain from shrinking.”Active Nation
Connect with nature – indoors and outside
Some people may struggle to connect with nature or to find a green or blue space near them.
This can be the case in poorly planned towns and cities, and we need to encourage planners and policy makers to create more green and blue spaces where people live. And stop turning parks and open spaces into concrete. It shouldn’t be just a privilege for those who live in less crowded places.
Some people may find it physically difficult to get outside, but there’s good news that even looking at pictures or videos of nature can boost our mental health and wellbeing. I remember reading research that showed that people in prisons and workplaces who had a window had better mental health than those who didn’t.
How can you add nature to your life?
I try to get outside for a walk, run or cycle every day, even if it’s for just 15 mins. There is research to suggest the morning is better as it can help with the circadian rhythms of our body, but really, any time of day is good!
Sometimes if you’ve been stuck with something then during the walk when you’re not consciously thinking of anything, or perhaps admiring a tree, the solution will come to you. Also if you’ve had a busy day and need to clear the head, a 10 minute walk can do wonders.
And remember “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes!” (Attributed to Billy Connolly among others). If it’s a truly awful day of weather I may have short 5 minute breaks in my garden, and I know I am fortunate to have a lovely garden.
You can even bring nature inside by growing plants in your home, or herbs on a windowsill.
Here’s a short video from Nature.Scot on the natural health service which summarises why it’s good for our health and wellbeing to connect with nature.
Do you have any favourite walks, views or things to do outdoors? How does nature help you with your physical and mental health? Let you know in the comments.
And if you’re on social media you may want to use some of the hashtags for the campaigns: