Looking after our mental health is such an important part of our lives, especially during a pandemic and the uncertainty that surrounds that. We have now approached spring this year which means more opportunities for good weather and actively going outdoors. As restrictions start to ease with the rule of 6 or meeting two households outdoors, now is a perfect opportunity to look at getting more fresh air and spending time outside, wherever you are.
According to an article by the Guardian, research suggests that: “A two-hour “dose” of nature a week significantly boosts health and wellbeing.” This can be in the city or the countryside, wherever you prefer to spend your time. If you can find a large green space near to where you live such as a forest, park, garden or public field, those spaces are equally beneficial than a walk down a street or city centre. It’s important to find areas of the outdoors which resonate with you more and help with your mental health. Comparing your mental health experience to someone else’s isn’t going to be beneficial in the long run as everyone experiences mental health differently and it’s important to recognise that. If you find walking in a city centre benefits you more than walking in an open space or vice versa, work with that and look at reducing any pressure you may put on yourself because your preference may be different to another person.
There is a significant link between physical exercise and the outdoors. Most outdoor exercises such as running, walking, cycling and group sports are very beneficial for our mental health – improving our mood and releasing endorphins into the body. Finding a group of people who enjoy the sports/activities you enjoy can also be helpful because spending time with people can be a good addition for improving our mental health.
As we start to work from the office a bit more as well as working from home, if you find yourself struggling to focus at the desk, take some time to have a walk outside which will help rebalance that focus for your work. Also everyone loves some sun in their day and being outdoors with the sun increases your intake of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the body to function overall, improving absorption of calcium and reducing inflammation.
When walking in the outdoors within open spaces, you can look at practising mindfulness and breathing exercises which can also link to meditation and positive affirmations. Mindfulness is known to reduce stress and according to an article by mentalhealth.org, there is a method when spending time outdoors in forests called ‘forest therapy’ or ‘forest bathing’ (which is known as Shinrin Yoku in Japan). This involves being aware of the surroundings around us and actively going through all our senses.
There are some great nature ideas for any time of the year. These include: gardening, planting and growing your own food, having plants inside the home, helping the environment and connecting with wildlife and animals. Trying creative activities outdoors can be a big boost for your mental health. Painting a picture, journalling, writing a story and working on some DIY can be great additions to spending more time outdoors.
Remember that mental health is just as important as physical health so we as human beings must remember to take care of ourselves during this time, especially with more uncertainty than we’re used to. Practice methods that work for you – going for a stroll outside within nature can be a good first step to take.