I’m sure I’ve said somewhere before that I struggle with Mental Health Awareness Weeks and Days. Not because I disagree with them, like some (who have a valid point that for those with enduring mental illness, or who are struggling to access the services they need, awareness is hardly the problem at hand.) – I really do think we still need to be raising awareness for all sorts of reasons, not least, challenging the stigma that stops many from feeling able to tell their friends or family members that they are struggling, let alone ask for help.
No, my difficulty falls a little into the Pathological Demand Avoidance category – even if I really want to do something, as soon as someone else asks me to do it, or there is some wider expectation, I find it almost impossible to carry on.
Maybe it is the increased attention or importance associated with the act when that expectation is attached to it – and hence anxiety that I will say the wrong thing, or not enough, or too much.
Anyway. Plenty of others stepped into the breach for me, and I tried to retweet and share some of the excellent content out there.
The theme this year was Nature, and how it can support our wellbeing. (And aid recovery from mental illness)
When you sit down to think about it, nature can be interpreted in many ways, and have many beneficial opportunities. How many can I think of? The key with this is to try and build as many of these as we can into our lives, as often as possible. Along with other self care strategies and coping techniques, and drawing on the support of friends, family and services – together these things support wellbeing, give us ways to escape our stressors and recover from adversity
- Go Green… Green is good for us in lots of ways, spending time in green spaces, making the spaces we spend time in more green.
- From the big to the small – I’m lucky to live on the edge of the moors, with easy access to wide open spaces, even if i’m not always fit enough to take advantage. Figure out where your nearest accessible countryside is, and how to get there – plan a trip as soon as you can.
- If not the countryside – how about a park? Even our most industrial cities generally have a number of parks we can take advantage of. Make a point of exploring them and finding out your favourite. Take a picnic, a kite, a blanket, a book.
- Maybe there are smaller green spaces in your neighbourhood – not quite a park, but a patch of grass, scrubland, grass verges – even roundabouts! One of my favourite nature memories is the smiles I used to see on my bus home through heavy traffic in Leeds, when we passed a roundabout which was populated by bunnies. I even wrote a book about it. Make sure you remember your green cross code if you’re crossing roads, but see what you can find. If your area isn’t too pleasant – maybe you could set up a guerilla gardening and clean up group to make it better!
- If you’re lucky enough to have some garden space, are you making the most of it? Spending some time outside to begin with.
- You might like to take your socks off and walk barefoot in the grass – some suggest this has health benefits, -regardless, it can be quite pleasant. Check that the area you want to walk in is free from sharp objects or other unpleasantness you wouldn’t want between your toes. Whether the grass is warm from the sun, cold and wet from rain or dew, or muddy and squishy – explore the sensations you experience, and try to feel connected to the earth. Walking on stone can also bring different feelings, from pain to pleasure depending on the texture.
- Look, and really see. What’s in your space – what plant life, animals, insects? Split your space into foot or metre square sections, map what’s there, learn about it. The more we look at a single space, the more we see – a patch of grass turns out to be made up of different types of grass, moss, daisies, dandelions and other plants, and home to insects, the earth containing stones and pebbles and bits of old pot or glass. Even a rock, when investigated, shows us the glistening beauty of the grains and particles that make it, the different facets of its shape, shadows and spaces that give it form.
- If you do have a garden, and you are fit enough – give gardening a go – explore different kinds of planting, space, and get digging. If you don’t have a lot of money to spare – borrow books from your library, and look out for local plant or seed swap groups. If you do have money but no strength or inclination, you could always pay someone to make your space just how you like it. But if you can do some yourself, try – not only is it great exercise and a strength builder, the act of planting, nurturing and watching your plants grow is very rewarding & mindful. Problem solving when things go wrong is also a great distraction.
- If you don’t have a garden – think about whether you could have a window box, or indoor plants – grow some herbs on your kitchen or bathroom windowsills. If you aren’t able to do this, or convinced of your ability to keep things alive (Though there are plenty of low-maintenance options, like airplants or cacti) – even pictures can have a beneficial effect. How about you make your screen saver an image of beautiful countryside or far flung locations.
- When the weather is dry, and the sky is blue, preferably with clouds – find a safe space to lay out a blanket or coat, and lie down. Look at the sky. Watch the clouds. The endless shifting of the skies. Look for imagery in the clouds, see how they come and go.
- When the weather is dry and the sky is clear, at night – find a safe space to lay out a blanket or coat, (wrap up warm), and lie down. Look up at the stars. If you can go somewhere as far as possible from streetlights, all the better. Go with a friend. Look at the endless universe, see the constellations, the satellites, the planets. Look at the blackness in between and know that it is full of light, just that you cannot see it with your eyes. (Remember that this is what the Hubble found when picking a spot of darkness to look into). `When the weather is wet – go out for a little while without an umbrella, let the rain wash your face, your arms and hands. Feel each drop as it trickles down your neck. It can be quite freeing to cry in the rain, if you need to. I feel like the sky is crying with me.
- Let the wind blow your cobwebs away. Feel it on your skin and in your hair.
- (Make sure you get dry and warm after 12 or 13 – revel in the contrast between the cold wind and rain, and warm towels, hot tea, coffee or cocoa)
- If you can – go for a walk, run, ride or wheel in nature. In the wildest place it is safe for you to go. Go somewhere you are unsure about. Take a map. Keep your phone charged and keep an eye on your signal. Make sure someone knows where you are going. Watch your footing. Walk until you stop thinking about your worries and then keep walking until you start having ideas. Walk until you are out of breath. Try do this as often as possible.
- Go to the highest place you can and look out at the horizon. Look at the world around you. See the stillness, and the movement. Look out for people and creatures living their lives. Try to imagine what they are thinking and feeling. Look at the rocks and the trees. How long have they been there? What have they seen? How many lives have been lived and lost while they stood by?
- Seek out water. Do you live by the sea? Can you visit? Go paddling or swimming, or sit and let the waves wash over you for a moment.
- Feel the warm sand under your bare feet
- Pick up a handful of dry sand and let it spill through your fingers
- Look at a handful of sand, each chrystaline grain, tiny seashell.
- Find the best pebbles or shells on the beach, the shiniest, the most interesting shapes, beautiful colours. Pick one to give to each of your friends and one for yourself.
- Make sandcastles. Sand cities, Recreate the canals of Venice in the sand.
- Dig a hole
- Get someone to cover you in sand except for your head
- Make a sand sculpture
- Look for rock pools and shellfish.
- Watch a crab
- Go fishing with a net (and put them back)
- Go to a lake or reservoir – walk around it or along the shore line
- Go and find some waterfalls – bonus points if you can stand under them or let the water wash over your hands
- Take up wild swimming (safely)
- Walk along your nearest river, stream or canal. Look out for wild life in, near or around the water.
- Put a pond or water feature in your garden
- Look for life wherever you are.
- Learn about and watch birds – listen to their song, notice the colours of their plumage. Watch the soap operas of their lives
- Learn about the animals in your area – get involved in their protection.
- Visit bird sanctuaries, nature reserves, butterfly houses, zoos or safari parks. (Look into them first to make sure they are looking after the animals and contributing to conservation) Get to know some critters.
- Go and look at some farm animals – either in the countryside or at an urban farm. This is a great time to see lambs and foals. Watch sheep, horses, cows, wandering about their fields. Slow down to their pace.
- Make friends with bugs.
- Make the most of your pets! Especially the furry ones. Spend some time playing with them, stroking, massaging, looking them in the eyes. Learn how they communicate and tell them you love them. Share some valuable oxytocin by having a cuddle.
- Go foraging! Preferably with someone knowledgeable – enjoy the fruits of nature. Especially enjoyable when the berries come out. Don’t eat anything you aren’t sure about – especially mushrooms/fungi.
- Go berry picking and get enough to make something delicious when you get home. Muffins are easy and tasty, as is a crumble.
- Visit some open gardens – enjoy the flowers and learn about them
- Find a sensory garden, or a herb garden, and smell the different plants, enjoy the different scents. Smell the roses!
- Explore the different textures of nature. Cold hard rock, smooth damp leaves, soft warm fur, sharp thorns, rough stone, cool water, warm mud, dry sand.
- Make a snow man
- Have a snowball fight
- Build an igloo
- Eat (clean) snow
- Have an icicle sword fight.
- Sunbathe (with suncream on)
- Read a book in the sunshine
- Join a walking/cycling/running/fell running etc group
- Watch a documentary about animals, plants, the planet, space, the weather
- Learn about the aspects of nature that interest you most
I could keep going with this forever. Remembering we are part of nature is a huge part of my recovery – much of our stress and anxiety comes from lives which remove us from nature, the rhythms of life, the benefits of air and sun and exercise and watching the cycle of life. Find a way to reconnect. Remember you are nature too.