Tag Archives: mental health

Lady walking dog in forest

Mental Health Awareness Week—Nature As A Healer

This year 2021, mental health awareness week is 10th May—16th May and the theme is nature.

Across the world, a viral pandemic has lead to a us taking steps to protect our physical health by staying inside our houses for weeks on end. This has had a profound impact on our mental health and it’s imperative we address this! During the pandemic, 45% people stated visiting parks and green spaces helped them cope.

When you think about nature, do you think about a special holiday you went on or a particularly picturesque place that helps you feel at peace and relaxed? What we need to remember is that we can find something special close to home if we look for it.

Getting fresh air and exercise has long been recommended for for general health and wellbeing but connecting to nature itself is also important. This relates to feeling an emotional association to nature. Activities that enable you to feel compassion and find a meaning in nature have been found to particularly effective. Such activities could include: intentionally listening to birdsong, feeling the bark of a tree or listening to the babbling of a brook. But you don’t need to be in nature to benefit: writing a poem or song or visualising a walk through nature could have equal benefit.

Actively choosing to connect to nature has been shown to increase happiness, joy and compassion, increase concentration and increase creativity. A decrease in mental ill health has also been shown, particularly symptoms of depression and anxiety.

It is important that the green space is clean (e.g. free from litter) and biodiversity (variety) has also been shown to be of benefit.

Feeling connected to nature can also increase pro-environmental behaviours such as reducing plastic use or recycling so making an active choice is win-win!

People living in urban areas are less likely to find clean biodiverse green spaces. Also, people with disabilities find it harder to access green spaces equally. Some groups, e.g. women, ethnic minorities, young people and disabled people said they weren’t sure if green spaces were safe. These barriers are really important to think about considering some of these groups are people who would greatly benefit from nature as therapy.

It’s important to plan urban parks well with accessibility in mind. Planting trees and flowers along streets is call a “green corridor”, even these small initiatives help.

If you’re feeling low or anxious, going for a walk may be the last thing you feel like doing but it could be the absolute best thing for you.

The main message is that you don’t necessarily have to do anything spectacular to benefit from nature. Check out this article to see some simple ideas for what you can do, even if you live in a city.

See full research article here.

female holding seated yoga pose

How yoga has totally transformed my life

Having recently discovered yoga, I’ve found far more benefits than I could have imagined. My mind, body and overall health have improved in layers.

1. Physical health—strength , flexibility and balance

Depending on the type of yoga practiced, incredible strength is needed to obtain some of the poses and movements. During vinyasa flow yoga practice, you’re encouraged to breath in a particularly way with each movement. Regular yoga practice builds strength and flexibility across your whole body. While holding the poses, even simple ones, your balance is improving each time.

Healthier blood flow around the body, in turn helps with blood flow to the brain which can help with clearer thinking. On a personal note, yoga can help with chronic conditions such as chronic pain—most (if not all) of the movements and poses can be modified if disability prevents the full posture being achieved. To start with I found, even, upward and downward facing dog difficult but I soon mastered a full sun salutation.

2. Mind-body connection

2 women, 1 with Down syndrome, doing yoga together

For all sorts of reasons, I struggle to understand the experiences of my body; I’m not sure what signals it’s giving me. It’s taken me a long time to understand hunger (for example) and when I experience pain, I’m not sure how to respond. Proprioception is the awareness of the body and its movement in space, yoga has really helped me be more aware of my body and to be more connected with it. A good yoga teacher will help you be aware of how far to push your body, to listen to its cues and to this has the huge benefit of having a better overall awareness of what your mind and body need.

3. You time—self compassion

As soon as you make the decision to do something for yourself, you’re showing yourself compassion. How many of us think we don’t have time to do something for ourselves? Think we’re too busy, have other priorities or put other people first? Carving out some you-time isn’t a bad thing, it’s not indulgent to look after yourself, after all, you can’t look after others if you in poor health… Treating yourself well has all sorts of knock on benefits, including: eating better, a calmer mood, more motivation, better confidence and self esteem, overall better mental health!

4. It’s not limited

A woman and young boy doing upward facing dog together

There are so many different types of yoga you’ll be able to find something that can work for you. You can do it with a child, in groups, on your own, while you’re pregnant, you can find work outs that make you sweat or that help you meditate, harder poses if you need something to motivate you to work harder over a period of months/years and there are simple movements if you body needs a break.

Yoga can help with specific issues such as bloating and digestion or headaches but it’s also great for overall fitness and health. You can do a 5 minutes routine in the morning or evening (to help you wake up or wind down) or a full blown intense hour long workout.

I would highly recommend finding a teacher who has the ability to modify postures and poses to individuals. Even online teachers can do this quite easily. It’s also important that they don’t make you feel as though you’re a failure for needing to do the modified moves, our bodies are all different and that’s ok.

During lockdown I started following YouTube videos daily and have found this to be incredibly beneficial for keeping a routine. My recommendation would be Boho Beautiful, she has a huge range of videos and has the option to join a community to get longer workshop video (I’ve never felt the need for this as her YouTube videos are enough for me!).

How does the 2:2:2 technique help me put things in perspective?!

Standing in a wood with a bright sun light

Do you every find yourself worry about something and you’re so surrounded by the thing itself that you just can’t see beyond the end of your nose?! It’s when you get so bogged down in the detail you can’t see the wood for the trees, you can’t see the bigger picture…

The idea behind this exercise is to try and step back from the things you’re worrying about and consider them in the future—will it matter in 2 days time? Will it matter in 2 months time? Will it matter in 2 years times? This helps us put things in perspective because it helps us see the bigger picture.

Female in supermarket picking up an apple looking concerned

It’s important to use a measure of time that’s relevant to the problem. If, for example, you’re feeling highly anxious about being in a supermarket because people don’t seem to be adhering to the social distancing regulations, you can ask yourself, will this matter in 2 minutes? Yes—I will still be here in 2 minutes and I will still be struggling with this problem, however, in 2 hours, you will have returned home, washed your hands and lowered your risks. The idea being that in the moment, you can think to yourself, within a short space of time, things will feel better and this helps manage the anxiety.

If you’re struggling with the anxiety of buying a house, you’re worried about how you’ll cope with all the paperwork, you’re feeling stressed about understanding the legal aspects and you’re lying awake at night. The 2:2:2 technique can help by enabling you look further ahead. Will this still be on your mind in 2 weeks? Probably, how about 2 months? Yes…but how about 2 years? No, chances are, you’ll be in your new home, having unpacked all the those boxes you’re feeling stressed about and you’ll be worrying about something else! Of course buying a house is stressful, but this technique helps you realise that there is a bigger picture, you just don’t know what’s around the corner, life’s stresses come and go and if we spend life worrying, we’ll miss the good stuff!

Female blurred image

This technique can also help if you’re struggling to make a decision. Sometimes our mental health can affect us in surprising ways—indecisiveness being one. In the depths of depression, being asked what I wanted to drink or deciding what to wear could feel like I was being asked for the nuclear codes. Grasping for the right answer felt perilously out of reach… Once I realised, what choice I made wasn’t going to matter in 2 minutes time…. the decision was so much easier, just pick something, anything, whichever was closest to hand, what I drank/wore yesterday, it was fine!

I’m training to be a counsellor; although anyone can call themselves a counsellor, to become a fully accredited qualified counsellor takes a long time because a lot of self-development is needed and there’s no short cut. During the training process, it’s hard that the thing I want to be is within reach but also so far out of reach. I’m working in a job that’s not my ultimate aim and it causes high amount of stress and fatigue; each assignment and hurdle on my course feels like I’m being tested and I worry about “performing” badly when I know I can do better; I worry I’m never going to reach my goal but I have to step back every so often and think… I’ll still be on this path in 2 months but in 2 years, I’ll (probably/hopefully) be the qualified counsellor I’ve been aspiring to be for so, so long!

I’m not saying this technique will solve everything, nor am I saying it’s easy, it may not be for everyone but if you’re struggling, perhaps it’s something you could try? It’s just another tool to stick in your tool box for managing life’s stresses.