Mental Health Awareness Week - Bring Nature into your Work
It's Mental Health Awareness Week next week here in the UK and this year's theme is Nature.
It's no secret that Nature is beneficial to having good mental health - after all we have evolved in nature and it is only in our relatively recent past that the majority of us live and work in a world largely disconnected from nature.
The urbanisation of our lives over the last 5 generations or so has had a hugely detrimental impact on our emotional health and has inspired countless studies which show how hard it is to have good health on any level without the positive influence of nature.
A US study in the 1960's revealed that hospital patients who had a view of nature recovered far more quickly than those who didn't.
Prisoners with a view of nature are much less likely to re-offend than those who face a brick wall.
Doctors are now prescribing patients with depression walks in nature to alleviate their negativity.
In fact a 2019 study from the University of Exeter stated that "spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing"
The team led by Matthew White found that spending just 2 hours a week in nature led to improved emotional, mental and physical health:
“It’s well-known that getting outdoors in nature can be good for people’s health and well-being, but until now we’ve not been able to say how much is enough,” White said. “Two hours a week is hopefully a realistic target for many people, especially given that it can be spread over an entire week to get the benefit.”
And we know this because we feel this - whenever we spend time in nature - camping, on a walk in a park, a bike ride in the countryside - we feel better, lighter, happier.
Spending a significant amount of nature lowers our stress levels and anxiety. It enhances our immune system function, increases our self-esteem, and improves our mood.
A psychiatric unit study found that patients who spent time gardening were calmer, their mood lifted and their feelings of isolation reduced.
Chances are that when we are in a natural setting we tend to be doing something active and are not tethered to a screen (unless posting a picture on Instagram!) This disengagement with technology, change of scene and physical exertion all promote the release of serotonin.
Over the last year I have found that a solitary walk every week has been an incredible mood booster and has enabled me to both switch off from daily problems, Covid stress as well as think through and sort out my spiralling thoughts.
Additionally - when I have walked with a friend I have found we have had a much deeper connection as we walk and talk; helping each other through things or just noticing the beauty of nature around us.
How can we get more?
I've noticed that despite the majority of us now working from home and being given the gift of more time back we are not taking advantage of this by spending more time in nature.
Now I know - there are a several barriers to this for many of us in terms of where we live, other constraints on our time and energy and I will readily admit that after a long, frustrating and stressful day I will readily say no to my 'switch off walk'.
Especially if it is raining. Hell no.
Yet the fact remains that spending 120 minutes or more in nature each week - either in a bock of time or spread out will vastly improve all areas of our health.
Therefore, I urge everyone to build in nature time - whether that be in your garden or allotment, going on a 'pretend commute' in nature to and from your working from home set up, moving your daily exercise regime outside in a more natural setting, organising a weekly walk with friends, taking the scenic route when you go shopping - the little tweaks each and every day will soon add up.
How does this apply to work?
More and more businesses are offering access to 'green spaces' for their employees knowing that this is an attraction.
As we begin to head back to our places of work it is worth assessing them to see what they offer in terms of natural settings - plants throughout the office, outside spaces which are not just concrete, pictures of nature throughout the work space, natural tones and colours - it may not be the real thing but bringing in as many natural elements as possible will help.
Then it is time to think how you can build nature into your working day - a change in your commute to go through the park perhaps, or flexible working several days a week so you have time to spend in nature in daylight, perhaps you can set up your work station outside in your garden or your local park.
When back at work ask colleagues to join you for lunch in the park, create activity groups with the aim to do things outside in a natural setting such as sports once a week, a monthly hike or wild swim, running or cycling club, gardening group, a foraging course or - and this is my favourite - Prosecco in the Park on Fridays!