GetOutside Champion: Alan Parkinson
Alan is an award-winning geography teacher, and author, Junior Vice President of the Geographical Association, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and Chartered Geographer.
15 minutes a day could be all it takes to improve your mental wellbeing. Find out how #GetOutside Champion Eli Bishop is challenging herself to spend 15 minutes outside every single day this year. Why not join her?
It is no secret that I 'suffer from' (no)... 'live with' (umm not right)... 'am diagnosed with'... (still not happy)...
Me. I am who I am, and part of that is living with mental illness. I have come to accept this, to realise that it is part of what makes me the rich, diverse and interesting person that I am. It doesn’t define me, I won’t let it control me but neither do I wish to be seen to be ‘suffering’ with it. I have accepted it, it has accepted me and we have a glorious symbiotic relationship.
My anxiety enables me to see the world in a truly unique way, it enables me to reflect, to have huge levels of empathy, to understand myself and others more and most importantly recognising that I have anxiety, has led me to kindness.
Everyone talks about mental illness being treated the same as a condition such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease etc. And I agree, the stigma attached to mental illness is a burden we all carry, because I believe that everyone has, at some point, had periods where their mental health has been unsettled.
It is something that we all live with, in the same way as we all get a cold, or man-flu or a sprained ankle. However, it also isn’t quite the same.
For our mental wellbeing is so much more connected to who we are, as individuals. It is this individuality that make the ‘treatment’ of mental health such a challenge. What is great for one person may be terrible for the next.
But I do believe that there is one thing that everyone can do to maintain, nurture and improve their mental health and that is the outdoors.
"It's the idea that people living close to nature tend to be noble. It's seeing all those sunsets that does it. You can't watch a sunset and then go off and set fire to your neighbour's tepee. Living close to nature is wonderful for your mental health."
An article in The Telegraph recently came to my attention and it talks about 'friluftsliv’: the concept of open air living and the latest Scandi buzzword. Forget last year’s hygge - which saw us embrace faux fur throws and candlelight - this is the cosiness backlash’.
It can be translated, roughly as ‘free, air, life’ and this concept has really struck a chord with me. Because being outside is exactly those three things for me. In Scandinavian countries friluftsliv is a part of everyday life, it is central to the way that the Scandinavians live. However in the UK it has been documented that our children are the most housebound in a survey of 10 countries. This is seriously alarming.
Being connected with nature and the outside, for me is fundamental to my wellbeing. Having worked in an office environment with very little natural light I remember feeling myself sinking deeper and deeper back in to myself. I started drinking again, after three years as t-total, I was eating large amounts of sugar every day and just sitting, looking at a computer screen day in day out. It wasn’t healthy for me.
“Being indoors creates a world that’s compartmentalised from the changing weather, landscapes and feelings. In contrast, being outside enriches our lives...
... Experiencing the unpredictability of the weather, a breeze over your face or an unexpected rainfall, adds variety to our lives. Smells evoke memories and thoughts and connecting with nature allows us to escape monotony,”
Just 15 minutes a day outside. Yes, just 15 minutes. Getting outside and taking a walk can clear your head and boost your immune system and elevate your sense of wellbeing. This is scientific FACT.
While outdoor sports such as walking climbing, cycling and canoeing successfully combine exercise with outdoor stimulation, any form of outdoor living will elevate your mental health. Simply walking through a woodland has been proven to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and reduce blood pressure and heart rate.
So take a daily walk, try your hand at cycling or simply sit and read in a garden to see benefits.
For 2019 I have set myself a challenge. To get outside for at least 15 minutes a day and document it to see my progress. I have called it #15Outside365 and every, single, day I am making myself go out for a minimum of 15 minutes. I don’t engage with my phone apart from when I do my video either at the beginning or end.
The really important thing to remember is that for those of us who have a mental health diagnosis sometimes just getting out the front door is the mountain to climb. So 15 minutes is I believe achievable for all.
And then this magic happens, the endorphins kick in, you start to relish that feeling of the outdoors on your skin, that feeling of connection with the outside and that 15 minutes becomes 20 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour and then you find you are looking at climbing the local hills and travelling to the mountains.
15 minutes is a springboard. It is also a failsafe for those times when you have a relapse. It gives you a little something you can hold on to when it gets dark again. When I am at my worst I can at least lie in bed at night and think that I have achieved something today, I got outside.
So, regardless of whether you have mental health issues or not, getting outside every day IS beneficial to your mental wellbeing and can boost your immune system. So join me, there isn’t really any excuse not to. It is only 15 minutes after all!
If you're in need of more information or advice contact www.mentalhealth.org.uk