Mental Health Awareness Week: 3 ways nature can help you boost your mental health
By Richard Cunningham, Service Development Director at Supported Independent Living (SIL), which is part of Lifeways Group
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week! And the theme is how nature can benefit your mental health.
At SIL, which is part of Lifeways Group, our teams of recovery-focused mental health support workers know how important it is for everyone to look at ways to look after their mental health.
And here, we’re going to talk about three steps you can take to look after yourself and your mental health by spending time with nature.
1. Adopt - or look after - a pet:
Looking after a pet increases feelings of wellbeing and calm, which benefits your mental health.
Taking responsibility for the care of an animal – whether it’s a dog, cat, hamster, or goldfish – is a great way to grow your own self-care skills.
Caring for a pet also gets you ‘out of yourself’ and gives you the opportunity to focus on something that’s separate from your own situation. Looking after a pet can also give you a sense of achievement.
What’s more, pets provide a very valuable source of comfort and companionship – as well as cuddles, of course. If you don’t, or can’t spend much time with other people (especially during these times), your pet is likely to be a major source of comfort and touch, which is one of the more important sensations that we tend to forget about.
What’s more, if you look after an active animal, such as a dog, you also get the benefits of regular exercise from having to take your dog for a walk.
Because of the boost that pets give to the mental health of people, at SIL, our Support Teams actively encourage the individuals we support to have pets - where it’s desired and safe to do so. Spend any time at our services (when COVID-restrictions allow) and you’ll quite likely hear barks and meows!
2. Spend more time outdoors
Decades of research confirms that spending time outdoors is good for your mental health – especially in a natural space like a garden, park, or forest.
Thankfully, you don’t have to do a lot outside to feel the benefits. Even just sitting outdoors for about 15 minutes a day gives a measurable increase to your wellbeing, according to research in 2019 from Exeter University.
Next time you’re outdoors in nature, make sure to take a few moments to enjoy the sunshine, look at the grass, trees and plants, and hear the birds sing. You’ll very likely feel better just from that momentary sense of peace than can come from sitting still for a while.
At SIL, we always make sure to situate our services around natural areas, including gardens, parks and nearby areas of natural beauty. This is so people we support in every service have the opportunity to access nature near their homes.
We also encourage and support individuals to take part in gardening. Being able to plant something and watch it grow gives you an enormous sense of achievement!
3. Bring nature indoors
If you don’t have a pet, or the opportunity to spend much time outdoors, there’s plenty of ways you can boost your mental health by connecting with the natural world indoors, too.
From the comfort of your home, growing houseplants gives you much of the satisfaction, enjoyment and sense of achievement of owning a pet – while needing less time and care.
At SIL, we support individuals to bring nature into the building, by encouraging individuals who are interested in keeping indoor plants.
But even if you’re not a fan of plants, and prefer to spend your time watching TV shows, that’s no obstacle to getting closer to nature. In fact, simply watching a nature documentary for a short length of time leads to positive emotions.
According to a joint study by the BBC and California University in 2017, even just watching short clips of a nature documentary is likely to make you feel awe, contentedness, joy, and amusement – and fewer negative emotions such as nervousness, anxiety, fear, stress, and tiredness. So don’t feel guilty next time you reach for your smartphone or TV remote!
We believe there are still too many people currently in hospitals or institutional care settings who, with the right support and structure, would thrive in community settings. SIL provides specialist support and recovery services for people with complex mental health needs, supporting them to transition into their own tenancy.
Find and contact SIL services in your area.
SIL is part of the Lifeways Group.
About the Lifeways Group:
The Lifeways Group provides extraordinary support for working-age adults in the community.
We support adults with diverse and complex needs, including learning disabilities, autism, physical disabilities, acquired brain injuries, and mental health conditions.