BLOG: Mental Health Awareness Week – Connect With Nature
The 10th-16th May is Mental Health Awareness Week for 2021, a time for increased conversations about mental health and what we can do to improve the wellbeing of ourselves and those around us. This year’s theme is ‘Connect with Nature’.
Research suggests that a thriving, wildlife-rich environment can benefit both your physical and mental health. Nature, through the role it plays in stimulating and encouraging physical activity, and through the direct impact it has on our emotional state, can help alleviate a range of psychological problems.
Being outside in natural light can also be incredibly helpful if you experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. Those who make the most of the nature tend to be more active, mentally resilient and have better all-round health.
So, this #MHAW we thought we would share with you some insight into what we are doing here at Oakleaf to bring nature to our clients as well as what you can do to bring yourself closer to the natural world:
Find meaning: Try to immerse yourself in nature using all of your senses – whether that be gradually watching your favourite flowers bloom, listening to the birds in the trees, smelling freshly cut grass, or even noticing the movement of the clouds. Simply take a few minutes each day to sit with nature and experience these moments of natural beauty in whatever way is meaningful to you. This should keep you grounded, help you put things into perspective and remind you to be appreciative of the little things in life.
During these extraordinary times with Covid-19, we formed a Wildlife Group where our clients were also invited to share their experiences with nature, whatever they may be. For example, discovering a plant they haven’t seen before, spending a quiet afternoon watching dragonflies on a nearby river, or perhaps observing fruit appear on their garden trees. They were also encouraged to take a camera with them to document their finds, and share them with the group as a kind of ‘show and tell.’
“It was one of the first groups that I developed when I started at Oakleaf last summer. I knew the positive impact getting outside for a walk during lockdown has had on my own mental health. Not everyone has a garden, so we always talk about what can be seen on walks, and what people might be able to see from their living room window. It’s important to see that nature still moves forward during a time when a lot of us feel stuck.”
HEATHER, VIRTUAL WELLBEING COORDINATOR
One of our clients, Caz, suffers from anxiety and immersing herself in nature and wildlife has really helped her to feel happy and connected to this newfound community:
“We share stories, photos and experiences of animals, lovely outdoor spaces and sometimes horticultural projects that we have personally started/are continuing – one I have been keeping everyone posted on is my herb garden! I love wildlife, animals and nature. Before now, I hadn’t come across a support group where people shared my passion and were able to dedicate their time to discuss and share. I enjoy sharing, learning and seeing people smile – it helps me smile myself and really picks me up.”
CAZ, OAKLEAF CLIENT
Bring the outdoors indoors: Sometimes it can be hard to access the outdoors because of your living circumstances, your time or your physical and mental health. But why not bring nature to you?
There are plenty of great ways you can get in touch with nature from the safety of your own home. For example, one of our upholstery assistants, Netty came up with the fantastic idea of forming a group for clients to create Spring Bulb Planters – one where they could come together and experience nature in a virtual capacity while adding a little colour (if they were to grow successfully) to their lives, particularly during these uncertain times.
“The idea came about from my own interest in gardening and nature; with lockdown creating this unease and isolation, I wanted to have a go at showing clients how easy and rewarding making these bulb planters could be.
“Connection with soil and plants is a proven stress reducing activity, and adding to that, can provide a real sense of achievement. Balancing success with failure (bulbs dying/outgrowing their planters) are good life skills and there really isn’t a right or wrong.”
NETTY, UPHOLSTERY ASSISTANT
Netty took it upon herself to provide Zoom demonstrations for everyone to show them just how easy it is to grow something wonderful if you take the time to provide that something with a bit of tender loving care.
She sourced the bulbs, the soil and some lovely wooden planters and made sure to stay in touch with all the participants over the last couple of months to check in on their plants and their progress.
Be creative: There are endless ways you can increase your sense of connection with nature; whether that be through photography, poetry, illustration, painting and so on. Noticing the beauty that nature has to offer and translating the transient moments you experience onto something much more permanent can help you to form an emotional connection and also give you something to treasure and remember for years to come.
Here are two wonderful paintings, which one of our clients, David has kindly shared with us as part of his collection: ‘Lockdown Ramblings’:
Stay active: Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and ADHD. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts your overall mood – and you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. If you’re social distancing, you can still take daily walks, jogs or cycles, preferably in a leafy area – or try your hand at gardening to get some much-needed fresh air!
If you would like to experience nature in your local area, there are plenty of beautiful walks as well as running and cycling routes in and around Surrey. Here are our top 10 picks (click on their names to find out more):
- The Horsley Jubilee Trail: a circular walk using mainly public footpaths and bridleways. The route takes you through open country, woods and farmland with the minimum of road walking. Starting point: Horsley railway station, Station Approach, Horsley, KT24 6QX
- Mole Gap Trail: follow the silver arrows, which will guide you along this delightful walk to Dorking. Starting point: Station Approach, Leatherhead, KT22 7SQ
- Chobham Common: a stunning walk over the high pine-topped heath, with a short more open section around the nearby verdant farm paddocks. Starting point: Staple Hill Car Park, near Chobham, Woking, GU24 8TP
- Hidden Hindhead walk: make your way to the eastern side of the Devil’s punch Bowl and look across the valley for the best views of the bracken turning a russet colour, rowan berries ripening through orange to crimson and crab apples turning orange-red. Starting point: London Road, Hindhead, GU26 6AB
- Hatchlands Park: this circular walk follows the edge of the park through woodland and open parkland with distant views of the house and the wider Surrey countryside. Starting point: East Wing Hatchlands, East Clandon, GU4 7RT
- The Polesden Lacey big walk: a 1,400-acre estate dating back to Roman times,which enjoys stunning views over the Surrey Hills. This challenging walk takes you into the heart of Ranmore Common with fantastic views over Denbies hillside that can be enjoyed at any time of year. Starting point: Polesden Lacey, Great Bookham, RH5 6BD
- Guildford Town and River Walk: a few minutes walking are all that is required to reach the beautiful and tranquil riverside environment of the River Wey Valley. Starting point: Top of Guildford High Street (near Ted Baker)
- Tilford Walk: this walk takes in Frensham Great and Little Ponds and the River Wey. Discover the medieval bridges at Tilford and an abundance of local wildlife. Starting point: Frensham Great Pond visitor centre
- Leith Hill: an exhilarating walk, which has been a popular picnic spot since the 19th century. Take in panoramic views from Leith Hill Tower. The woods are a mass of colour in spring and summer, and are equally stunning in autumn as the leaves on the trees change colour. Starting point: Windy Gap car park, Abinger Road, Dorking, RH5 6LX
- The Chantries: a circular walk along the southern ridge of The Chantries with panoramic views across to the South Downs and back towards the Church of St Martha-on-the-Hill. The walk returns through woodland which in late April/early May is covered in a carpet of bluebells. Starting point: St Martha’s car park, Halfpenny Lane, Guildford, GU4 8PZ
See below views from the Chantries and the New Forest, taken by our Fundraising and Partnership Manager, Jen Clay:
If you would like to get involved with Mental Health Awareness Week, have a think about how nature has positively impacted your mental wellbeing. Share with us your favourite or most meaningful nature photos to help inspire others to get out and experience the natural world, and keep the conversation going surrounding mental health. You can do so by tagging Oakleaf on social media using the hashtags:
#ConnectWithNature and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
If you are able to donate to Oakleaf and help us provide much-needed mental health, employment and wellbeing support, we would be incredibly grateful—we now need you more than ever: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/donation-web/charity?charityId=1006744