Mental Health is everywhere right now, it’s become a ‘buzz’ word which is brilliant. Slowly we are knocking down barriers and breaking the stigma attached to mental health.
When I was a kid we had many thoughtless words for people who had mental health issues. I could have said they were unkind but I think that being unkind is pre-meditated and there is a level of knowledge attached to the sentiment. As kids we weren’t being unkind, we were just uninformed.
In January this year I started a new job; at the interview I had gone in with confidence and been open about my previous career and subsequent mental breakdown. Talking to my new bosses about my mental health was relatively easy.
The next challenge for me was to open up to my colleagues who were bright young things; this was not as easy. However not long after I started the job I went off to the Ordnance Survey #GetOutside Launch.
The two days were amazing, however two things occurred while I was there; 1) I got a massive dose of Imposter Syndrome and 2) I found out that an acquaintance had committed suicide the day before. I spiralled.
Not only did I spiral but I went in to a flat spin, for Top Gun fans out there it was big one but I was luckier than Goose and managed to survive. But how? How did I manage to pull myself out of this darkness that had descended? By getting outside. Yep, it was that simple. I went outside, walked up hills, breathed in the air, turned off my phone and did that whole ‘disconnect to reconnect’ thing.
It gave me the courage to open up to my colleagues who were in the Lake District at the same time as me. When I told them I took a deep breath and just said it. To say the response was underwhelming would be an understatement. They just looked at me, said ‘OK, cool, would never have guessed’ and went on to engage in a frank conversation about mental health.
They accepted it in the same way as if I had just let them know I suffer from migraines. It was so refreshing and a relief, but what is happening around mental health means that that stigma is slowly being eroded and kids of today aren’t doing what we did as ill-informed minors, they are open to what it means and accepting of people’s differences.
Having a conversation can help
Being open about my mental health with the people I meet is still like taking a leap off a cliff, but it is always a positive leap. Sharing my experience empowers people to open up about themselves and those closest to them.
Point in kind; when I was away a few weeks ago with some fellow Champions on the Ultimate Navigation Weekend in the Peak District I talked openly about my mental health.
It was like I had opened a flood gate; the conversations that followed were illuminating, refreshing, sad and joyous all in one fell swoop. From ex-military to office workers we all had a poignant story to share. We walked, took in the spectacular scenery and talked. The outdoors and talking really are King.
It is scientifically documented that getting outside in to our beautiful countryside, our green spaces, woodlands, parks, beaches can significantly improve our mental health and wellbeing. Spending time outside reduces anxiety and stress; it releases those magic ‘feel good’ chemicals in your body and make you feel alive.
This year Mental Health Awareness Week is focusing on stress. It is reaching out to both employers and employees and asking them questions on how they can take some responsibility for reducing stress on a day to day basis.
Well for me, and many, many others (its scientific fact after all) just getting outside, for as little as 15 minutes a day can help improve and maintain your stress levels and mental wellbeing.
Spending time outside could help
Think about it, many of us take multi-vitamins and supplements to help keep our bodies in tip top condition. So how about we start to do the same for our mental health?
Start treating it in the same way as we do our physical bodies. So how can you do this? Many people live in cities and don’t have the luxury to open the door and go for a wander by a river, through fields or up a hill.
But the UK cities and towns have some of the most glorious green spaces in the world (my Dad told me that and he works to keep them safe for us all against planners).
When I go home to Bristol one of my favourite things is to go for a walk up on The Downs, when I lived in London the many parks were easy to access, and in Newcastle-upon-Tyne we would wander down to Jesmond Dene in the evening after work (mainly to see the goats, my husband loves goats….don’t ask!).
Getting Outside for your Mental Health and wellbeing should become a part of your everyday life
Here are just a few reasons why it is so very, very good for you:
- It reduces your stress levels. Being outside changes the physical expression of stress in the body by lowering the levels of cortisone in your body. For office workers just a view of woodland can reduce stress levels.
- You feel tired for a reason – there is nothing more disheartening then being tired for no reason. So by getting outside, even just for a walk round the park gives you a reason to be tired and you will sleep so much better.
- Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues can all be eased by spending time outside especially when it is combined with exercise. The NHS has even started prescribing outdoor activities such as NHS Health Walks for mental health patients and in Biarritz they prescribe surf lessons!
- It is good for your health; it lowers blood pressure, you get that vital Vitamin D, it can reduce the symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), it boosts your immune system, it’s good for your vision – shall I go on??
- It helps you to focus & be more creative – do you reach a point at work where you can’t move forward? Go outside for 15 minutes, get some fresh air and perspective. It helps regain focus and boosts creativity so you might come up with the next big thing while you’re out.
- It gets you fit – this speaks for itself…
- You can meet new people and talk – it is after all good to talk.
- It makes us better people all round – psychologists state that exposure to the outdoors helps us shrug off everyday pressures and enables us to focus on the more important things such relationships, being kind and our community.
Need some ideas? Here you go…
- Zoe at Splodz Blogz has a fantastic initiative called #OneHourOutside where you pledge to spend one hour outside a day, if you can, come rain or shine.
- Use the Ordnance Survey Green Space layer on their Digital Map Subscription to see where your nearest green spaces are for a walk before, during or after work.
- Go to the GetOutside website for ideas on walks and activities that you can do either on your own, with friends or family.
- Join me on my #15Outside pledge where I get outside for just 15 minutes each day. This is manageable for me (even though I work in the outdoors) as it is after all just 15 minutes. Sometimes I struggle to get out the front door due to my anxiety and an hour can be too much of a challenge, but 15 minutes is manageable. And you know what, once I am out that 15 minutes pretty much always becomes much, much longer…
- Aim to explore your local area. You can walk from your front door each evening and go in a different direction for anything from 15 minutes to an hour.
- Put down your mobile phone and get outside. You could even go so far as to leave it at home. Go on, I dare you…