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It’s Mental Health Awareness Week

10 – 16 May 2021. It’s time to get outside and #connectwithnature

During the pandemic, going for walks was one of our only options when leaving the house. The world as we knew it was shut but parks and green spaces remained open. And instead of us just seeing them as a throughfare to a ‘destination’ we became to appreciate these spaces more, realising that a turn in the park not only meant we got up our step count, but that these daily walks were pretty vital for our mental health and in helping us cope.

With more time on our hands and nowhere to be, we slowed down, looked up and connected with nature again – cue mindfulness.  We noticed the parakeets in the trees (yup), we noticed the sounds of the nature without the constant buzz and chuff of snaking traffic and the thump, stomp and jabber of hundreds of commuters.

Most of us realised (even though we already knew this) that green spaces and nature are such an important part of being a human – and how actually noticing nature and taking time for it is so important for both our physical and mental health.  ‘It was as if we were re-discovering at our most fragile point our fundamental human need to connect with nature,’ says Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Awareness Foundation.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise then that this year, the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is nature. ‘Nature is so central to our psychological and emotional health, that it’s almost impossible to realise good mental health for all without a greater connection to the natural world,’ adds Rowland.

A study in the US in the 70s found that patients who were treated in hospitals with a view of nature recovered faster than those who didn’t. Connecting with nature, interacting, noticing and appreciating it helps to reduce feelings of (social) anxiety and isolation.

This week, the Mental Health Awareness Foundation is asking us to post our pictures, as we head out into our city parks or green spaces of choice and tag them #connectwithnature

So plan in some outside time…

Right on your doorstep.

All of the Get Living sites are in prime spots to be clocking-up some quality green miles. East Village alone has 25-acres of parkland, while the Olympic Park covers a whopping 560-acres of space, which is equivalent to 300 football pitches. Add to that, the 6.5km of leafy canal-ways, 26-acres of woods, with over 13,000 trees, 60 species of birds and 250 species of insect. Choose a new route and discover gorgeous new spots.

Elephant and Castle is home to the delightful Burgess Park, which just so happens to have BBQ facilities, so get your march on, embrace that beauty – and then why not make an evening of it with some sausages and sangria (or whatever BBQ-combo floats your boat).

 

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A post shared by Nature in Burgess Park (@burgess_park_nature)

For those living at New Maker Yards, Salford’s inner-city Peel Park hugs the River Irwell and is home to the Salford University, Museum and Art Gallery. The universities Environmental Sustainability Team and the Peel Park Ranger (best job title ever?) have collaborated to create a ‘tree trail’ which guides walkers on a journey to discover 25 different types of tree. Do you know your Tibetan Cherry from your Silverbirch? Every day is a learning day.

 

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A post shared by Friends of Peel Park (@peelparksalford)

And while you’re on your tree hunt (trail details here) reach out and hug those beauties. Yes, really. Be inspired by David Knott’s beautiful account on his year of tree hugging here. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

 

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A post shared by Nicky Weir (@nickyweir_m_up)

Go wild, jump in.

Have you taken up wild swimming yet? The world’s gone mad for it. Even in the height of winter mere mortals have been throwing themselves into whatever freezing al fresco waters they can find, lidos, lakes, bins (?!) and all because of the experienced health benefits to their bodies and minds.

 

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A post shared by WE’RE RUBBISH. LITERALLY. (@batoko)

But DON’T just jump into frozen water. That’s extremely dangerous.

You have to get cold water acclimatised to prepare your body first.

The master advocator, teacher, record breaker, is Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof, aka ‘The Iceman.’  He’s run snow-marathons bare foot and believes that exposure to freezing temperatures is a perfect way of teaching your body to deal with stress.

 

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A post shared by Wim Hof (@iceman_hof)

On entering cold water and while submerged you’re required to control your breathing which in turn controls your heart rate and ultimately improves the cardiovascular system.

Being able to control your breathing, body and your mind under stress (cold water is stressful) also helps you to build confidence in your own ability to take control of other stressful situations you may be faced with.

Entering freezing water triggers the fight-or-flight response in our bodies, you try to catch your breath, but you get control of it. Which is a proof to yourself that you have control. A great help for those managing anxiety.

Hoff recommends starting with a 30 second cold shower in the morning, and then adding an extra 15 seconds every day. When you’ve endured 2 whole minutes – he says you’re ready for the plunge.

Like any extreme hobby, people will take and respond to it differently but natural water outside starts to warm up in May so it’s a great time to give it a go.

Check out outdoor lidos close to you (there are tons across London!) plus the Salford Watersports Centre’s open swimming classes, also check out local swimming groups – it’s such a great way to meet and bond with new people and if you are venturing out to nature – never swim alone.

Take your workout outside.

While you start with your morning cold shower prep as you build up to your wild dip, you can still get outside to workout, check out all of the fantastic classes across Get Living sites, endorphin creation in nature. Bootcamp while the birds sing, Pilates amongst the perennials. We’re all for it. See you there!

Don’t forget to snap yourselves this week and tag: #connectwithnature

Mental health matters.

It’s always better to talk and share. If you’d like to talk to someone about your own mental health. Do checkout the expert counselling team at FIX London. Or our amazing charity partners at MIND who are experts in mental health support.