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Mental Health Awareness Week 2021: Nature

Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 10-16 May 2021. This year’s theme is ‘nature’, celebrating the positive impact that the great outdoors can have on our wellbeing.

According to research by the Mental Health Foundation, going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies during the pandemic, with 45% of us saying that being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health.  

Many of the NABS team treasure their lunchtime walks and outdoor expeditions. Here, two of our colleagues, Marian Arnold-Lawson, event manager, and Annabel McCaffrey, head of support, explain how being outdoors gives them a boost.

Switching up scenery in Heaton Park

Marian Arnold-Lawson

I love being in the outdoors. Living in Manchester, this can sometimes prove tricky with the inconsistent weather and often horizontal rain!   

I’m fortunate enough to live walking distance from Heaton Park, a 600acre park with a lake, animals, takeaway café and wooded area. I like to go there as often as possible for my lunchtime walks to break up the constant zoom calls I think we’ve all felt during lockdown. 

Getting outside into nature has been necessary for my own mental health. We’d usually be commuting to meetings and offices and seeing other people – I’ve even been missing my walk to the tram stop, where I’d have the odd interaction with other people. It’s only 25 steps from my upstairs down to my dining room office – not much in the way of interaction or scenery there! 

A friend of mine started doing what she called a ‘fake commute’ at the beginning of lockdown and I loved that idea. I was given a Fitbit for Christmas and getting my step count up gave me a challenge as well as something healthy to do outdoors. 

Taking 45 minutes to walk outside and switch up my daily scenery really helps me to clear my head. Stepping away from the computer is a great way to collect my thoughts and return fresh for the afternoon.   

It’s good for the soul to listen to the birds, see the squirrels playing, watch families play in the park and watch the seasons change too. I’ve seen bluebells in the wooded area, cherry blossoms in spring, crunched through autumn leaves, sploshed through puddles and walked through snow blizzards during lockdown. The park is continuously changing and it’s so beautiful in every season. 

They say if the weather gives you rain, dance in the puddles. I definitely do that now.  

Spotting the small stuff

Annabel McCaffrey

I don’t know if you noticed, but one morning in early March something changed. It was much warmer that day and there was a shift in the light.   

On my daily walk down through my housing estate, sprinkles of magic had also appeared. Tiny hillocks of coffee grains were smattering the path ahead. 

Within two or three inches of each other, on the dry, cracked soil, were miniscule molehills. No wider than a bottle top, each with a perfectly circular hole in the middle.  

My breathing slowed. My eyes narrowed. My shoulders dropped as I stopped in my tracks and peered more closely.   

What on earth has created…?  Was a strange creature about to…?  Why have they chosen…?” As my curiosity lit up, so my anxiety faded.   

You know that interminable, exhausting, inner chatter many of us have?  Well, for 30 seconds, mine had just shut up.  

I’ve always been interested in the natural world. So, like many of us, I’ve found great solace in simply spending time in nature over the last 12 months, particularly when my anxiety levels have threatened to overwhelm me.   

And spotting the small stuff has been a lifesaver.   

For instance, it’s easy to wander past a dandelion without really noticing, isn’t it?   

I let my eye settle on its shape and marvel at its structure and form.  And when I do, a different part of my brain comes alight.   

It turns out that our feel-good hormones love a bit of nature spotting. For those of you who, like me, enjoy a bit of hard evidence, there’s great news.   

Plenty of new scientific research shows how our dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin levels rise if we take just a few minutes to tune in to the natural world around us. As those hormones rise, so our anxiety and depression can diminish and be diluted and therefore can become more manageable. 

On my way back, that same morning in March, I waited patiently by the holes, willing a spindly leg or furry head to pop out.    

Nothing doing. But you know what? It didn’t matter.   

Do you know what really mattered? More than anything?   

My mountainous anxiety had disappeared. Like magic, it had transformed into a totally absorbing, rather small but perfectly formed molehill.  

 Let us know how being outside helps with your wellbeing – tweet us your tips, we’d love to hear from you. 

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