This week (May 10-16) is Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK and its 2021 theme is nature.
The Mental Health Foundation suggests seven top tips to help us connect with nature to improve our mental health: find nature wherever you are, connect with nature using all of your senses, getting out into nature, bring nature to you, exercise in nature, combine nature with creativity and protect nature. There is plenty of content to inspire including this podcast.
But it has taken a global pandemic and several lockdowns, which have denied us the ability to travel, to help us appreciate local nature in a way that few of us could have predicted in March 2020. Restrictions on leaving our homes except for daily local exercise have prompted many of us to explore far more of what we have taken for granted or even ignored locally than when we had freedom to undertake unrestricted often long distance travel to national parks and coastlines.
The links between physical exercise, mental wellbeing, nature and green spaces, once the knowledge accessible to a few, have become the experiences embraced by the many who have discovered for themselves the benefits of being outdoors in green places. In effect, large numbers of us have been subconsciously self-prescribing exposure to nature and the outdoors as a treatment for the symptoms of feeling trapped by lockdowns. For others, more formal explicitly beneficial schemes such ‘blue prescribing’ courses such as those being run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust may help alleviate mental anxiety and relieve stresses.
In reading a piece by no less an institution than the World Economic Forum on how city trees can reduce stress and anxiety I was reminded of a previous video and a post by the same body
on one of my favourite topics, the subject of forest bathing or shinrin-yoku, which uses sensory immersion in a forest environment as a way of calming and de-stressing. Several things struck me – such an experience is a great example of connecting with nature using all of your senses, and if the World Economic Forum is talking about such matters we have surely made considerable progress in putting nature into the mainstream of debate about the quality of our lives.
The test for us all in future is to sustain our engagement with nature in all its forms and to recognise that this is not a fad, a short term or slightly zany response to the strange circumstances of the moment. Our connection with nature, however basic and fleeting these days, is hardwired and denying it is like denying ourselves of oxygen which never ends well.