Lucy Carey, Subject Advisor
UK Mental Health Awareness week will take place from the 10 to 16 May. This year’s theme is nature and the environment. The theme was chosen because being in nature is known to be an effective way of tackling mental health problems and of protecting our well-being. When I was growing up, my parents would always send me outside to get some fresh air telling me it would make me “feel better” – and now there is a growing amount of scientific research to support this.
There are lots of ways in which spending time in nature can be positive for our mental health and well-being. From gaining a sense of peace and a boost to our self-esteem, to improved concentration and psychological restoration.
However, finding safe ways to enjoy nature may be an important key to reducing the stress and other psychological effects of this uncertain time. Going outside, or simply gazing at green spaces from a window, can improve people’s emotional wellbeing amid COVID-19.
You don’t have to go on multi-mile hikes to reap the benefits of nature. Spending as little as 7 to 10 minutes outside can improve your well-being. The key is to find enjoyable ways to appreciate the outdoors mindfully and consistently. You can look at the toolkit to find some ideas if you would like to incorporate Mental Health Awareness week activities into your school. Or you could dip into some Tips to Try in Nature, published by Mind, and find some activities that could fit into your daily lives.
Increasingly universities and organisations have collaborated to explain the benefits to well-being of spending time outside to enjoy nature. Here are five resources that you might like to use:
Derby University has worked with the National Trust to outline what people can do with nature to help. Tips include simple everyday things, like watching the sunrise, listening to birdsong and watching butterflies and bees, as well as activities that take more time, such as planting something to grow in your garden or on your windowsill, sketching a flower or animal or building a home for animals such as hedgehogs.
The university went on to produce the Nature and Me guide, which looks at five ways to strengthen the relationship between people and nature. These are:
The Thriving in Nature Guide published by the WWF and the Mental Health Foundation is also useful for people in urban areas, with busy lifestyles. It offers tips and ideas for those who are experiencing stress or strains on well-being.
Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe, a lecturer in environmental psychology at the University of Surrey, looked at how listening to birdsong may restore attention and alleviate stress.
The New Scientist has published a wide ranging article looking at the benefits of green spaces for mental well being. However, it is not only have green spaces that can help. Blue spaces, such as water, lakes, rivers and the sea, can also boost our health. So you may well find me braving the cold and going for a plunge in a lido!
You could consider and try to extend the mental health awareness week into a monthly challenge, to be more attentive with nature and boost your well-being. The charity TrustLinks has created a calendar which support ideas and things to do every day. This could be a challenge for your tutor group or your class.
Whatever you do, however you do it, the evidence certainly supports my parents’ original advice all those years ago, that going outside does indeed have many benefits. .
Lucy Carey - Subject Advisor
Lucy joined OCR in September 2017 as the Subject Advisor for Sociology and Psychology. Before joining OCR she worked as a teacher as the head of Sociology and Psychology departments in Peterborough, Yorkshire and Cambridge. In her spare time, she enjoys scuba diving and travel – and now maybe a bit of birdwatching too!