Every year, May marks Mental Health Awareness Month and there is particular focus on 10-16th May this year (2021) as the dedicated week to talk openly about mental health. As a topic to explore throughout my website and social media, mental health is all-encompassing and slightly overwhelming to discuss. It is the very essence of our being. So instead of speaking in broad terms, I decided to promote the #ConnectWithNature theme for 2021.
Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, each year is themed and this year, the theme is nature. After a year (and then some) of lockdown, partial isolation and limited freedom, a lot of us have turned to nature to guide us and heal us. So, it only seems fitting that this year, our attention goes to the wonderful gifts that nature brings every single day.
During the peak pandemic months, millions of us over the world turned to nature. We went out for our daily walks even if we weren’t keen on walking before. We found time in each day to get into green spaces. We researched live streams and footage of bird nests to watch. We were taking advantage of nature at every moment that we could, as though we were re-discovering the sheer beauty all around us that we had been taking for granted.
You don’t have to do much research to understand that nature is central to our emotional psychology and physical health. In fact, some believe that having a good connection with the natural world strengthens our mental health immensely. If you think about it, I am sure you can find a personal example of when you were struggling, really stressed or just needing a boost and stepping into nature felt like shedding away a few layers and getting rid of some of the burden on your shoulders. It feels good to get out and let some of your fears and worries float away in the breeze. Tilting your face to the sunshine so the golden light covers you entirely makes you feel warmer inside, less isolated and alone. Being caught in the rain roots you to the ground and you marvel at how miraculous nature is.
Connect with nature in new ways
But, despite our new-found love for the natural world, not all of us soak it up to the full potential, or even take advantage at all. I know I am guilty of being “too busy” for a walk outside, or “too stressed” to stop for tea break in the garden. But the minute I do step out, I feel lighter and the moment I walk back through the door, I know I’ve done myself some good. It’s not always easy to persuade myself, but it’s always worth it.
I often think of these walks and breaks as a “treat or luxury” but nature is anything but that, it should be seen as a necessity. Just like food and water, we need the fresh air and the green spaces and plants to breathe more easily and to live more happily. The less we start thinking of our time outside as a “break from the things we need to do” and more of a normal part of everyday, the better. That is something I would like to work on myself.
Moreover, as lockdown eases here in the UK and life becomes busy with plans again, will we forget the true beauty of an evening walk? We will forget the bliss we felt at stepping out into the sunshine and take the time for granted again? Will we see a walk to the station as A to B rather than simply enjoying the walk?
Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 states that it wants to “inspire more people to connect with nature in new ways, noticing the impact that this connection can have for their mental health” and to convince higher governing bodies that “access to and quality of nature is a mental health and social justice issue as well as an environmental one.” Read more about the campaign here.
While our connection to nature is only one small part of a very big picture that is our mental health, it can play a much bigger role than we once thought. Nature heals, it soothes, it calms and it fascinates. It is there at our fingertips if only we know how to, and have the inclination to, take full advantage of it. So, how can we work more nature and connection to the outside world into our lives?
How to bring more nature into our lives:
- Experience nature: go for a short walk (10 minutes is enough to feel the benefits, I think) and really take it all in.
- Spend time mindfully outdoors: there’s almost no point being in a glorious setting or being outside if you’re glued to your phone screen or thinking about your to-do list. Leave the phone in your pocket, leave your worries at the door and just be mindful of where you are. Outside of nature, mindfulness is a great tool at betting your mental health and spending just a few minutes a day on this really gives you a long-term boost.
- Use all your senses: this forms part of the mindful experience of being in nature. What can you see? Can you smell freshly cut grass or the blossom? What can you hear while you are outside? Have you touched any leaves or flowers? You may not taste anything but maybe a drop of snow or rain lands on your tongue. Notice it all!
- Bring nature indoors: so many of us have developed a passion and love for succulents and other indoor plants. Scientifically they bring oxygen into the house, but they also just brighten up a room and bring life back inside.
- Follow nature accounts: there are so many wonderful accounts on social media that focus on travel, nature and wildlife. Give a few new accounts a follow so that when you are scrolling, you can stop and stare at something amazing in the natural world.
- Watch nature documentaries: even if you are sitting still for an hour, this may also help forge a connection with nature. Discover a hidden land, learn some new facts about your favourite animals and marvel at the powers of nature. Being able to lose yourself will detract from the negatives going on.
- Bring something of yours outside: take one task or activity that you usually do indoors, and when the weather allows, do it outside. I love taking my laptop outside on a sunny afternoon and even though I am still working, it feels so much more relaxed, and my stresses don’t seem quite so huge. Or, bring your yoga mat outside and do your home workout from the garden.
- Talk about nature: we all know the power of talking in dealing with our mental health problems and struggles but if you don’t feel ready to talk about those, talk about nature instead. Share a passion with another person, describe the flowers you saw on a walk or be typically British and talk about the weather! Anything to strengthen your connection with the outside world.
So the list goes on, there are so many ways to connect with nature every day – from the small actions to the mammoth all-day hikes. There is something for everyone and there is a slice of nature for everyone at any moment of any day, if we know where to look for it and how to find it.
I am going to finish with a few of my favourite quotes about nature to give you a daily boost:
“In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bending in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.” Alice Walker.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Lao Tzu.
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” Henry David Thoreau.
The recipe for these Cashew and Blueberry Caramel Blondies went out in one of my Newsletter Emails – you can sign up here and get exclusive recipes and more thoughts delivered to your inbox every other Sunday. Make sure to stay up to date on all my Monthly Musings posts here.