Improving your mental health through the great outdoors

French Duncan



In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week, our Wellbeing Committee have been sharing a series of blogs with all the staff here at French Duncan focused on how we can take better care of our mental health by embracing nature, in-keeping with this year’s Connect with Nature theme.

Our French Duncan Wellbeing Committee is made up of volunteers from across the firm of different ages and backgrounds, who focus on providing mental and physical health support to their colleagues.

Here are some of the blogs that have been shared with staff this week:

Top tips

As we’re now (thankfully) easing out of restrictions and are all at different stages of “getting back to normal” we need to be mindful of what feels right for us. Making the time to stop and appreciate the beautiful things around us, breathing in fresh air, and of course getting a bit of light exercise has been proven to lower levels of stress and improve mood.

We have found these five fab tips from MentalHealth.org.uk for reconnecting with nature:

  1. Find nature wherever you are – this could be as simple as sitting outside to work if the weather allows or taking a walk on your lunch break or even co-ordinating your team to hold a “walking meeting” instead of being sat at their desk

  2. Connect with Nature using all of your senses – just try and take some time to notice everything around you, from clouds moving past the window, rain battering the decking, the wee robin that always visits your garden in the morning or even lying out in the evening watching the stars

  3. Get out into Nature – why not plan a trip at the weekend? Could be a picnic by the sea with some friends you haven’t seen in a while, a walk in the woods with the kids or even a peaceful swim in a loch (I started this in January and love it!)

  4. Bring Nature to you – not everyone is handy for a walk in the wild so an alternative to this is bringing the outdoors indoors! Why not get yourself down to your local garden centre and buy some plants to take care of. A wee indoor herb garden is a great way to start and always comes in handy when it’s your turn to cook

  5. Exercise Outdoors – now that gyms and swimming pools are open again you might be more inclined to get back on the treadmill but having had close to a year of no gym I can genuinely say I prefer exercising outdoors. Obviously with our weather, the gym is the sometimes the more sensible option but it’s always good for your mental and physical health to get a nice bit of fresh air

Visit the MentalHealth.org.uk website for lots of useful information on support for mental health.

Whatever you choose to do, try to relax and take some time out to enjoy what the outdoors has to offer (even if it is pouring down with rain most of the time!).

I spy…

I spent part of my childhood on a dairy farm so have always felt very close to nature. This is my favourite time of year because not only do I have a vast array of garden birds at my bird table but I also get to experience the magical dawn chorus each morning. The birds also perform at dusk, so where possible I try to listen to that too, there is something very therapeutic about it. I’m a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and I find its bird identifier and bird song identifier really useful. You don’t need to be a member to access, they can be found here:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/identify-a-bird/

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/bird-songs/what-bird-is-that/

Each year in January, I also take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch ran by the RSPB, you can find more information here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/. Just counting birds on your bird table is so relaxing and great fun for children too!

I recently read a book called Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness, about one person’s struggle with mental health issues and how birds helped to turn his life around. It suggests finding your ‘patch’, a place you can go and observe the wildlife and connect with nature. When lockdown hit, Joe’s words resonated with me and I made a special effort daily to connect to my ‘patch’. It’s been amazing to observe nature so closely – not just birds but also foxes, rabbits and deer.

Joe has a website where he shares more of his story, has a blog and you can access a free download which gives you 13 bird related activities, they can be found here:

http://joeharkness.co.uk/

http://joeharkness.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Bird-Therapy-Teaching-Pack-V3.pdf

I am currently reading a very interesting book which presents compelling arguments as to why we all need nature. It’s called ‘Losing Eden’ by Lucy Jones. More details can be found here: http://lucyfjones.com/books/.

I hope you have found this engaging and that it encourages you to get outside and experience nature whatever the weather!

Step to it

In keeping with the ‘Nature’ theme I wanted to touch upon how walking/exercising outdoors can be a very effective way of making us feel better.  Personally, I always feel better after going for a walk outside rather than using the treadmill whether it’s just 10 minutes or an hour I always feel that I have a clearer head when I return home and feel that wee bit more ready to tackle anything that awaits me.

There are several apps that can be used if this isn’t something that you’re used to doing – Couch 2 5k is a great app for those people who don’t really walk very often especially over the past year when we’ve all been that bit less mobile with gyms, shops etc being closed.

Undernoted is something I read on the Mental Health website which I think sums things up perfectly:

‘During long months of the pandemic, millions of us turned to nature. Our research on the mental health impacts of the pandemic showed going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies and 45% of us reported being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health. Websites which showed footage from webcams of wildlife saw hits increase by over 2000%. Wider studies also found that during lockdowns, people not only spent more time in nature but were noticing it more’.

We do a month long step challenge at French Duncan each Autumn, but this year we are also doing one in June – an ‘Ultramarathon’ which is a total of 62 miles and will be walked over the course of the month. It’s amazing how much more motivated you can be when there’s a team element to it!

Please take care, stay safe & take some time to enjoy our surroundings.

In summary

For many of us, nature has played a critical part in our mental health during the pandemic with the Mental Health Foundation reporting that visiting green spaces during lockdown helped 45% of people in the UK cope. ‘High-quality’ areas of nature where there may be a bigger variety of plants and wildlife or more serene, quiet landscapes have a more positive impact on your mental health. However, we recognise that not everyone has access to these areas therefore the key take-away from this week is to focus on ways that we can connect with everyday nature close to home, through simple activities such as making an effort to notice birds, plants or flowers while out walking or listening to birds in the garden.

One of the main aims of this year’s mental health awareness week was to inspire people to connect with nature in new ways and to notice the positive impact being outdoors can have. We hope that our updates this week have reminded you of this and have encouraged you to reconnect with nature.  

Below we have posted some useful links:

www.MentalHealth.org.uk

www.mind.org.uk

www.samaritans.org

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