Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 – Nature
This week marks the Mental Health Foundation’s mental health awareness week, and the theme is nature. Nature is a top topic in my world. After all we are nature. I regularly find myself frustrated at the separation between us and nature. Sadly, we live such unnatural lives that we find ourselves in a situation where connecting with nature becomes a campaign. I feel its important to reframe this as reconnecting with yourself – you are as natural as the nature outside – and you can do this through spending time living a natural life.
The MHF recommend prioritising time outside. In my article The Benefit of Spending Time Alone I write about creating a plan. It is easy to prioritise time outside in your head but then find it difficult to make the time or find the motivation in the moment. When you put a time in your diary it becomes a plan that you stick to. In addition to fixing a time create a plan of where you will go, how you will get there and how long you will spend there. Spontaneity is relevant as is listening to yourself and being present in the moment but when you have a busy life a schedule is the thing that will make it happen. As per the MHF promotional video, if you struggle to get outside look for wildlife from your window – always try to use as many senses as possible so open the window and listen to the wildlife, grow a plant, and take a moment each day to smell the sweet smell of the flowers.
In my blog post Three Mindfulness Exercises I write about using your five senses to bring yourself into the present moment. This is a helpful way to reconnect with the natural world around you – wherever you are. When you step outside and immerse yourself in nature it is an easier process and a good way to start but once it becomes normal you can use this trick anywhere. As I write this I am in a room with blinds on the windows. I cannot see outside, and I have a big, very unnatural computer screen in front of me. However, I can hear many birds singing outside. It is easy for me to sit back, close my eyes and immerse myself in the wonder of nature. I hear high pitched fast sounds, lower pitched longer sounds. Birds that like the sound of their own voices and sing continuously, others that chirp in every few seconds. Repetitive birds and those that change their song.
By choosing to put a little more effort into creating an experience for myself I can imagine that I am outside. I imagine a large open space, surrounded by blossoming trees. I cannot see roads or houses, only the natural world. The sun is shining brightly, I can hear a faint murmur of farm noise in the distance and smell freshly cut grass. It feels warm on my skin and I am comfortable. The birds in the garden merge into this imaginary scene creating a realness in my mind that permeates my imagination and tricks my brain into thinking it is a real experience. This is the power of the imagination.
Your Five Senses
When you connect with the natural world surrounding you, always use your senses to enhance the connection. Take out your earphones and actively listen to the sounds. Hear the noises in the distance and those close by. Notice the smells, some pleasant others not so – however in mindfulness it is important to act non judgementally so try to smell the manure in the same way you do the roses! There are ways to learn about edible wildflowers so take some time to do so. During the spring, many places are awash with wild garlic and dandelions. A taste test as you walk will incorporate your sense of taste without having to separate yourself from your experience. As you walk use your hands to notice the array of textures that surround you. Touch the rough bark of trees and the soft silky leaves.
A Joy rather than a Chore
We all have different amounts of free time, what can you adapt in your life to give you time immersed in the natural world each day? Often it is simply taking the time to plan differently rather than substituting. When you find yourself in a position with time and motivation, plan different experiences. A beach experience is completely different to a forest, the running of sand through your fingers feels different to the bark of a tree. The waves in the sea different to the trickle of a stream. In the UK we are lucky to be able to easily reach forests, fields, beaches, rivers and lakes, however these are not easily accessible to everyone. Make it easier to mix things up by planning the time you will go, where you will go and how you will get there in the days or hours before. This will also help to make the experience a joy rather than a chore.
Reconnect with Yourself
The evidence shows that spending time in nature helps us to be happier and recover quicker. You are such a part of nature and natural, that your body functions in line with the universe. Your circadian rhythm, for example, is set by the sun and the rhythm of the planet. Most of us interrupt this by using artificial lighting and screens. This does not go unnoticed by the body and may in fact cause you problems, you can read more here. Spending time living naturally allows your body to function as it evolved to function. Spending time connecting with yourself, with nature aligns your mind and body. Helping your body to function optimally and you to feel good.