Visit the National Park during Mental Health Awareness Week
Anxiety is something most people will experience in their lives and is in fact a very normal human emotion. Yet sometimes those feelings of intense worry can get out of control and escalate into something bigger.
Anxiety is the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (15th May to 21st May) and the National Park is sharing some simple tips to help manage anxiety by connecting with nature.
Kate Drake, Health and Wellbeing Officer, is offering five pathways to nature connectedness that can help boost your mental health. It comes as the National Park Authority continues to forge ahead with its Health and Wellbeing Strategy, which was launched three years ago and aims to connect more people with the South Downs National Park as a “natural health service” for the South East.
Kate said: “Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues and is a natural human response when we feel that we are under threat – almost like our own internal ‘alarm’ system. A recent mental health survey by the Mental Health Foundation showed that a quarter of adults surveyed said they felt so anxious that it stopped them from doing the things they want to do some or all of the time.
“Sixty per cent of the adult population feel this way at least some of the time. Yet, on a positive note, anxiety can be made easier to manage and connecting with nature is one of simplest, and, might I add, one of the most enjoyable and rewarding ways, to help tackle the issue.
“I want to offer some simple tips that are no by means a ‘cure’ for anxiety, but incorporating more nature connectedness into your day-to-day routine can certainly do wonders for your mental health, wellbeing and general mood. Exciting research is going on all the time, but we know that having the sensory experience of being in nature is deeply soothing for the mind and can give it a chance to rest and reset.”
Kate’s five pathways to nature connectedness
Senses – Tune into nature through your senses. Ideas include:
- Go into your garden or local park and listen to the sound of birds.
- Listen to the sound of the sea or the trickling of a stream.
- Take a stroll through a green space and notice what you can see, hear, smell and touch (taste may be a bit more difficult!) Focus only on the present moment, not the past or future (phone on silent and in your pocket can help)
Emotion – Feel alive through the emotions and feelings nature brings. Ideas include:
- Exercise! Go for a walk, run or cycle on one of the 3,300km public footpaths in the National Park and breathe deeply, feeling the calming breeze on your face. Exercise is known to release feel-good hormones such as serotonin.
- Forest bathe – spend an hour or so in peaceful woodland and notice how your sense of urgency diminishes and calmness develops. Did you know that almost 25 per cent of the National Park is covered by woodland?
Beauty – Notice nature’s beauty. Luckily, in the South Downs, we’re spoilt for beauty:
- Head to a stunning location and soak up the picturesque views, such as St Catherine’s Hill, Butser Hill, Devil’s Dyke, Kingley Vale or Ditchling Beacon.
- Head to one of the National Park’s many chalk grassland or heathland sites and look to see how many butterflies and birds you can see.
Meaning – Nature brings meaning to our lives. Tips include:
- Incorporate a walk in nature at least once a week, making it part of your routine and part of “daily life”.
- Keep a nature diary and jot down things you see and how you feel.
- Take photographs of wildlife and frame your best ones to display proudly in your home or as gifts for friends and family!
- Go for a walk with family or friends in nature and share experiences. Take a flask and a bite to eat and enjoy social time in green spaces.
Compassion – By caring and taking action for nature supports the natural world too. Ideas include:
- Do some microvolunteering such as joining a litter pick or taking part in a wildlife survey.
- Help wildlife by planting wildflowers, keeping a “wilder” area of your garden, or creating a mini-pond in your garden.
- Help the environment by recycling, buying local where possible and using less water.
Helping people with anxiety by connecting with green spaces is just one aspect of Kate’s work. Over the past three years the National Park has got more heavily involved in green social prescribing, which supports people’s non-clinical needs and focuses on their social needs and wellbeing by referring them to activities that take place in nature. Current projects include:
- Timescape – supporting people to have a relationship with nature and cultural heritage through making and creating at Amberley Museum and Butser Ancient Farm.
- Carers in Nature – supporting carers to connect to nature, each other and provide respite through mindful walks in Worthing and Adur districts in West Sussex.
For more tips on connecting with nature for mental health, WWF UK and the Mental Health Foundation have produced a handy downloadable guide. Visit www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/publications/thriving-nature
For more details on the National Park’s work, including information for healthcare professionals, visit www.southdowns.gov.uk/health-and-wellbeing/