Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 begins on Monday and this year the theme is 'Connect with Nature'. This past year has pushed most of us to our limits – with over half of us feeling that the pandemic negatively impacted our mental health and wellbeing. Faced with uncertainty and limited social contact, many of us turned to the natural world for comfort.
Going for walks outside was one of the most popular coping mechanisms – with 45% of us reporting that green spaces has been essential for our mental health. A record number of us turned to gardening, with seed companies reporting huge spikes in sales at the beginning of lockdown, and RSPB’s annual Big Garden Watch, where participants count the number of birds that enter their garden, more than doubled, with over a million people joining this year. Regardless of age or culture, spending time in nature holds an overwhelming appeal, with research suggesting that over 90% of us would imagine ourselves in a natural setting when asked to think of a place where we feel relaxed or calm.
From a stroll in a city park to a day spent hiking in the wilderness, spending time in nature can have a whole range of health and wellbeing benefits:
1. NATURE CAN REDUCE STRESS, ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION
Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong link between time spent in nature and a reduction in stress, anxiety and depression. In one study, researchers measured the brain activity of a group of people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural setting. They found that participants experienced a reduction of activity in the area of the brain responsible for negative emotions and a reduction in cortisol, the stress hormone, responsible for the body’s fight or flight response. Focusing on pleasant images like trees or greenery was also found to distract participants’ minds from negative thinking and contributed to an improved sense of wellbeing.
2. NATURE CAN HELP SOOTHE PAIN
In a famous study of patients who underwent gallbladder surgery; half were given a view of trees and half were given a view of a wall from their hospital beds. According to the medical staff who conducted the survey, patients with the view of the trees tolerated pain better, had fewer negative side effects and spent less time in hospital.
3. NATURE CAN ENHANCE WELLBEING
Who can’t vouch for the mood enhancing effect of wrapping up warm and getting out in the elements, no matter how inclement? Research shows that 95% of people in one American study said their mood improved after spending time outside, changing from depressed, stressed and anxious to more calm and balanced. Other research shows that time in nature or showing people scenes of nature, led to a positive mood, wellbeing and vitality.
4. NATURE REMINDS US EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED
When we pause and take a moment to appreciate nature, we recognise that everything is interconnected – from the decomposing leaves on the ground to the beauty of the first flowers of Spring, the roar of the ocean and the lone tree on the street outside to the air that we breathe. It’s hard to feel alone when we appreciate that we form part of a rich interconnected eco-system.
5. NATURE IMPROVES OUR ABILITY TO PAY ATTENTION
Feeling frazzled and unable to concentrate? Put your screen down and step outdoors. Studies show that spending time in nature replenishes our cognitive resources, restoring our ability to concentrate and pay attention. Humans have evolved to find nature inherently interesting, so we find it easier to focus on what we are experiencing when we are in nature. This also provides respite for our overactive minds, refreshing us for new tasks.
Monday 10th May to Sunday 16th May 2021
INTERESTED IN DISCOVERING THE BENEFITS OF CONNECTING WITH NATURE FOR YOURSELF?
Join Lumi Foundation every day next week for our Connect to Nature Challenge. Starting on Monday 10th May and ending on Sunday 16th May, we'll be sharing a different and fun way that you can connect with nature each day.