Wellbeing and Nature

Nature’s Role in Mental Health

As next week is UK Mental Health Awareness week with a focus on nature and the environment, it seems like the perfect opportunity to go a little deeper with one of my favourite wellbeing topics – the positive effects of nature on mental health. Those positive emotions are something most of will have felt at some time, perhaps while appreciating a far reaching view or watching the sun set over an ocean. These moments connect us with the natural world in a way that lures us away from the busy and negative stories playing out in our minds and bring us back to what is real.

What’s more, this positive link between humans and nature is well-supported with plenty of research, especially in the field of environmental psychology (1) where some much-tested theories are playing a big role in influencing the way we design and spend time in outdoor spaces. Take the work of Richard Louv whose 2005 book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ introduced the concept of Nature Deficit Disorder, whereby he argued that most people, especially children, are spending less time outdoors leading to us feeling more separate from nature causing a reduced attention span and more negative moods. The research in this area has big implications for creating effective learning strategies for both children and adult learners.

One downside to so much research in one area is that it can be a little confusing to navigate and pick out what is useful to get started. So, my aim here to provide a ‘whistle-stop’ tour of some intervention ideas that might help you personally, or give you inspiration for what you could to do to promote the benefits of the nature connection on your teams at work.

So, how can nature boost your mental health?

Enjoying a spot of lunch next to Victoria Falls or watching the sunset on Kilimanjaro would no doubt be an amazing experience and, for most of us, be emotionally moving, but is not necessary to go to such extremes to enjoy a better connection with nature. Here are some more accessible ideas:

7 ways to a Connect with Nature

Forest Bathing is a Japanese practice (Shinrin-yoku) of relaxation backed by Japanese government research from the 1980’s, which demonstrated that two hours of forest bathing could reduce blood pressure, lower stress hormone (Cortisol) levels and improve concentration and memory (2) as well as optimising the nervous system and balancing heart conditions (3). Forest bathing is nothing more than walking in a woodland environment and taking the time to appreciate and focus on the natural world around you. Put another way; simply take an interest in your environment as you walk.

In fact, walking in any type of nature offers psychological benefits, in particular, on our cognitive function.  Studies have demonstrated an increased memory performance (4) after walking in nature, as well as improving the moods of people suffering from depression and giving them an increased motivation to get past their illness (5). Furthermore, there is also evidence demonstrating increased levels of attention, focus and concentration (6) (7) after walking.

Even just spending time outside has it benefits; for instance, it can lower the stress hormone cortisol (8) and if being outside drags you away from your tech devices then you stand a good chance of boosting your problem solving skills and creative abilities (9).

Spending some time working on your garden offers a whole host of health paybacks (10). Whether it is increased physical activity, a deeper connection with nature or an enhanced sense of mission and fulfilment, springtime really is the perfect opportunity to create your own sanctuary and space away from it all.

To gain even more benefit for your time outside how about keeping a Nature Journal? The purpose of the journal is to creatively record our encounters with nature, this may be writing a description of a view or how it made you feel at the time, or it might be a simple sketch of something that catches your eye, or glue in an item like a fallen leaf.

Perhaps consider doing some of your work outside if you have the opportunity. With so many people working from home at the moment, and as the weather improves, perhaps taking the laptop or some paperwork outside for part of the working day might be a good option, especially if you are wanting to reduce stress and boost creativity.

Planting houseplants. Not having a garden should not be a reason for not connecting with nature. Putting some houseplants in your home can still bring benefits of a better connection with nature. These plants can improve respiration, promote better mental health and improve cognitive function (11). 

There is one thing for sure; there is no shortage of research outlining the many benefits to human wellbeing from connecting with nature at any level. Whether it is increased happiness, improved emotional regulation, a deeper sense of self, effective interpersonal relationships or better heart health, there really is a good reason for everyone to value and nurture some form of connection with nature. I hope something in this blog has inspired you to get out there and use UK Mental Health Awareness week as a focus for improving your own connection with nature.

 

Written by Director Barrie Penrose, pictured here with his dog Remmy, doing their own Forest Bathing!
 
 
 
References:
  • Bell, P. A. et al. (1996) ‘Environmental psychology, 4th ed.’, Environmental psychology, 4th ed.
  • Richardson, M. et al. (2016) ‘30 days wild: Development and evaluation of a large-scale nature engagement campaign to improve well-being’, PLoS ONE.
  • Mao, G. X. et al. (2012) ‘Effects of short-term forest bathing on human health in a broad-leaved evergreen forest in Zhejiang Province, China’, Biomedical and Environmental Sciences.
  • Berman, M. G., Jonides, J. and Kaplan, S. (2008) ‘The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature’, Psychological Science.
  • Berman, M. G. et al. (2012) ‘Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression’, Journal of Affective Disorders.
  • Hartig, T. and Mang, M. (1991) ‘Restorative effects of natural environment experiences’, Environment and Behavior.
  • Faber Taylor, A. and Kuo, F. E. (2009) ‘Children with attention deficits concentrate better after walk in the park’, Journal of Attention Disorders.
  • Gidlow, C. J. et al. (2016) ‘Natural environments and chronic stress measured by hair cortisol’, Landscape and Urban Planning.
  • Atchley, R. A., Strayer, D. L. and Atchley, P. (2012) ‘Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings’, PLoS ONE.
  • Scott, T. L., Masser, B. M. and Pachana, N. A. (2015) ‘Exploring the health and wellbeing benefits of gardening for older adults’, Ageing and Society.
  • Orwell, R. L. et al. (2004) ‘Removal of benzene by the indoor plant/substrate microcosm and implications for air quality’, Water, Air, and Soil Pollution.
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How to Look After Your Mental Health During Self-Isolation and Reduced Social Contact

Understandably, it is a time of concern and unease for everyone. The seemingly relentless changes to guidance and advice mean that adjustments are happening quickly and often raising more questions than they answer. Alterations to the way we live and work are underway and this might mean that you are now working from home or self-isolating in response to symptoms or government information. Finding yourself out of typical routine can be daunting so putting tools in place to smooth this transition can reduce anxiety.

Structure your Set Up

It is important that you feel equipped and resourced to complete your work at home and this can only happen if you are properly prepared. Talk to your employer about any policies that your organisation have relating to home working and identify any tools or access you will need to be able to complete your role effectively away from the office. Try to anticipate any issues you might face and consider how you would overcome these away from your workplace – this needs to include trouble-shooting for your work, but also for circumstances such as being away from others and what you will do if you feel you are struggling.

Keep Connected

Although many of us will find ourselves in isolation or in reduced social situations, that doesn’t mean that you can’t communicate in other ways. Phoning people, talking over video messages or sending messages can help to reduce seclusion and loneliness. Agree regular check in times; make sure that you have up-to-date contact information for any key people,; and use different modes of communication to keep in touch – try video messaging, group phone calls or Facebook groups so that you have a wealth of support and interaction. These should be for both work and personal connections to make sure that you have a range of support available to you. For example, you could set up virtual coffee breaks so that people can catch up remotely and stay connected.

Disconnect

Where possible, limit the time you spend watching, reading or listening to news that could cause you anxiety or distress.  Choose a specific time to check and stay informed by only using reputable news outlets, such as government and NHS websites – understanding the risks can help to make the situation less stressful. Where possible, avoid speaking to people who increase your worries and anxieties, and be honest with others about limiting information if this is something that will help you to feel calmer and less anxious. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, can be a good line of communication, but false news or speculation can do more harm than good so consider how you use these during this time.

Keep your Routine

This could prove quite tricky in some circumstances, but it’s really important that you continue healthy habits, such as exercise, a good balanced diet and keeping hydrated. You should try to stick to typical routines, such as when you go to bed and when you get up on a morning. Typical activities such as showering, having breakfast and getting dressed can help to bring some normality to the start of your day and help you to make the distinction from work to home effectively. Similarly, having a plan for your days, whether it is for remote working or during your personal time is important – consider scheduling your days to get a healthy balance of work and rest.

For work, make sure you factor in:

  • Opportunities for fresh air, even if its sitting by a window or heading into your garden for 15 minutes
  • Regular rest and toilet breaks, especially to keep up good hygiene for washing hands
  • Time to communicate and check in with your manager and work colleagues
  • Considering your own personal developments and progression – is there any additional research, activities or courses you could be completing?

For your personal time, make sure you include activities such as:

  • Reading
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Baking or batch cooking
  • Exercising – running up and down stairs, dancing to the radio and chair exercises can all be used to keep up energy and fitness levels. Don’t forget you can also go outside to exercise in your garden or other public space, as long as you keep the recommended distance from others.
  • Watching a series or film
  • Tidying and organising 

It is important that you keep talking to people around you and making your mental health a priority. Although these circumstances are unprecedented, your health and wellbeing is still, as always, a priority.

As a company, our vision is to simply see people flourishing in the workplace (whether home or office-based) and our mission is to help clients to support and develop good psychological health in their teams. That is because we believe flourishing people create thriving organisations. 

We do this by providing specialist training and services to support mental health, resilience and wellbeing in the workplace and online.

Whether you are looking for face-to-face training, online learning or a blend of the two, we can tailor training on topics such as resilience, mental health and other developmental areas, perfectly suited to your organisation and team. 

Resilient People      

www.resilientpeople.co.uk                 [email protected]

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Embrace JOMO (the Joy of Missing Out)

Thanks to social media, we are now more connected than ever, yet this can actually create feelings of distance and disconnection. Being able to continuously check out where others are checking in, see the latest fads and favourites, and peer at ‘picture-perfect’ poses, the business and bustle of others can make us question if we too should be going out and joining in.

Escaping this ‘must-do’ mentality is essential to improving our mental health and wellbeing. Embracing JOMO (or ‘The Joy of Missing Out’) can be a positive step in reducing the feeling that you are obligated to take part and fit in, and this can reduce the additional pressure and stress in a number of different ways, including mentally, financially and physically. The emphasis on ‘JOMO’ is not that you are missing out, but that you have the choice to take a step back when you need to, to miss out on the ‘right things’ and giving you time to regroup, recharge and relax.

 

EMBRACING JOMO

1. START A DIGITAL DETOX

How often is your phone the first thing that you reach for when you wake up? How about sitting with your phone right next to you while you watch TV? Are you guilty of looking at your phone right before you go to sleep? Our phones, and by extension our tablets and other similar technologies, have become an essential part of our lives. Of course, they can help to minimise stress by keeping us organised, in contact and in the know. But their presence can also be a damaging distraction to our lives. Giving yourself time away from your phone is an important part of taking control of your wellbeing. Studies show that the blue light from your phone’s screen stimulates the brain so if you are using your phone as a tool to help you sleep, this could actually be having the reverse reaction. Downing your devices an hour before bedtime can help your body switch off and relax properly for a good night’s sleep. Ban phones at the dinner table so that you can focus on the people around you and use the time to catch up properly instead of being distracted by timelines and memes. Give yourself time to properly see and engage with the world around you rather than the electronic one in your hand.

2. SLOW DOWN

Life can feel like a treadmill of hustle and bustle. Often we find ourselves flitting from one activity to another, our days seeming to pass in a blur of work, appointments and commitments. Reducing the rush in our lives can give us time to recognise the things that are important to us, to invest and develop relationships with people we care about, and to reward ourselves for our hard work and commitment. In such a fast-paced world, think about the last time you sat down and actually did nothing. When did you go for a walk without having a reason or a time to adhere to? Scheduling time so that you have time to stop and appreciate the world around you is an essential part of JOMO – step out of the chaos into the calm when you need to.

3. SAY NO!

Often, we can be inundated with requests and invitations, and this can mean that we don’t have the time to stop and rest, even though sometimes we know that is what we should be doing. Being able to recognise when we need to recharge is essential. If your mobile phone was low in charge, you would either reduce your use of it to try to keep the battery going for a little longer until you could find a charger or you would stop using it immediately, plug it in and let it replenish with energy. Think about your body in the same way. Persistently pushing yourself physically and mentally with no time to rest will mean that you could eventually burn out. At the very least, it may mean that you are not able to work as efficiently as you usually would.

4. SCHEDULE ACTIVITIES YOU ENJOY

We are not always able to only do things that we want to. Different activities that make up our lives may not always be at the top of our list, but they fulfil an obligation or necessity. Planning things for you to do that brings joy means that you have a balance within your life and creates essential rewards for you completing the other activities. For example, you might dislike supermarket shopping, but obviously, it is an crucial chore meaning that you have the food and supplies needed to live. You could balance this activity by planning in some time afterwards to do something you do enjoy, such as putting your feet up and reading for a while. If your schedule is packed out, make sure you diarise time to complete a hobby, spend time with someone who makes you smile or just focus on some you-time to get that balance back.

 

 

GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO MISS OUT AND DISCOVER THE THINGS YOU WERE ACTUALLY MISSING OUT ON ALL ALONG.

As a company, our vision is to simply see people flourishing in the workplace and our mission is to help clients to support and develop good psychological health in their teams. That is because we believe flourishing people create thriving organisations. 

We do this by providing specialist training and services to support mental health, resilience and wellbeing in the workplace.

Whether you are looking for face-to-face training, online learning or a blend of the two, we can tailor training on topics such as resilience, mental health and other developmental areas, perfectly suited to your organisation and team.  

Resilient People       

www.resilientpeople.co.uk         [email protected]       01977 210220

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