Mental Health Awareness Week UK, which runs from 10th to 16th May 2021, will have an added significance this year. Over a year of lockdown restrictions, job uncertainty and missing out on seeing our loved ones have all taken a toll on the nation’s mental health.
The pandemic has affected everyone in some way, from school children and university students to older, more vulnerable people who’ve been required to shield.
Government studies have shown that over 21% of UK adults reported a clinically significant level of psychological distress during lockdown, while UK mental health awareness charity Young Minds reported in January that 67% of young people between 13 and 25 felt the pandemic would have a long-term negative effect on their mental health.
A time to reflect on our feelings
Plans have been disrupted, social ties have been tested, events have been cancelled, holidays have been on hold and many of us have struggled to maintain a sense of balance between life, work and the many pressures that come with getting through a global pandemic.
If lockdown has brought any positive benefits, however, it’s been the chance to take stock. Free from social obligations, office politics and stressful commutes, we’ve been able to slow down and think about how we’re really feeling - and what makes us truly happy and fulfilled.
Naturally, a greater mental health awareness has been part of that, with charities like MIND, The Mental Health Foundation and Rethink Mental Illness working to open up conversations about our mental wellbeing and break down the stigma around mental illness.
Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, which takes place each year during May, has never been more important. Run by the Mental Health Foundation, the event aims to help people of all ages across the UK to identify and prevent mental health problems before they emerge.
Connecting with the nature around us
It also acts as a signposting service to highlight tools, resources and support groups where those affected by mental health can seek trusted peer support.
Every year, Mental Health Awareness Week features a different theme and this year’s theme is nature. For many people, nature has always been closely linked with good mental health. In fact, few things are thought to be as instantly beneficial to our wellbeing as being in nature.
When the UK first went into lockdown, households up and down the country - from the Cornish coasts to the Scottish Highlands - turned to nature. Research conducted by The Mental Health Foundation even found 45% of Brits felt that being able to get outside into green spaces had been vital to their mental health.
Our instinctive need to be in nature goes back much further than the pandemic, though. In early human history, our very survival depended on our connection with nature and our ability to live in harmony with the seasons and the natural world.
Tips to lift your mood through nature
We all experience different mental health challenges at some point in our lives, whether it’s stress and anxiety or depression and persistent low moods. If you’ve been feeling a little low lately, try one of these nature-led activities during Mental Health Awareness Week to give your wellbeing a boost.
Take a hike
Not all of us are lucky enough to have hills, mountains or open spaces on our doorstep, and if you live in an urban area, it can definitely feel like an effort to get out into these places. But that effort will almost certainly pay off - there’s something about climbing to the top of a hill and taking in the view that creates an incredible sense of peace and accomplishment. Find a map, choose a hill, plan your hike, pack a rucksack and take some time out just for you.
Go forest bathing
Forest bathing is another incredible way to experience nature. This peaceful Japanese practise is simply about being calm and quiet amongst the tall, ancient trees, while observing the beauty of the nature around you. Forestry England has some great tips on how to get started and where to go, and many people report feeling relaxed and refreshed after a walk in the forest.
You don’t have to travel far to enjoy nature; it can start in your own garden. Cultivating your land and getting your hands into raw earth is incredibly rewarding; it’s also a fantastic exercise in mindfulness and being present. Think about how you can bring more nature into your garden. Perhaps you could plant some beautiful bee-friendly wildflowers, or start a fragrant herb garden on your kitchen windowsill.
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Sit by water
There’s something about being by water that brings an incredible sense of calm. The soothing ripples on a lake or the miraculous rhythm of the ocean waves just seems to feed our souls. Whether you take a trip to the beach to feel the sand between your toes, take a quiet Sunday stroll along a riverbank or meet a friend for a picnic by a lake, being near water is a great way to lift your mood.
Watch a wildlife webcam
Wherever you are in the country, you can still enjoy the wonders of nature without even leaving your couch. Lots of bird and wildlife organisations let you tune into their live webcams to watch everything from peregrine falcons in flight to badgers in their natural habitat. Countryfile has a great list of the best wildlife webcams to explore.
Soak up sunshine
The unpredictable British weather doesn’t give us too much sunshine, so it’s important to make the most of it when it does! Research shows that Vitamin D, created sun’s ultraviolet B rays, plays an important part in warding off low mood and even depression.
We hope you’ll discover some useful resources during Mental Health Awareness Week UK 2021, and we’d like to take this opportunity to wish you good mental health and a happy, healthy summer.
The Heart-Hemp Team