Loren Eley works in the client team of the National Advertising Department, she is on Team Enable, our Belonging at Bauer diability pillar, and also champions mental health awareness and understanding. She has bipolar disorder and when recovering from a manic episode, completed a course on ‘Nature and Recovery’. As this Mental Health Week’s theme is nature - she wanted to share her learnings to help others.
Nature is the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which was chosen because the evidence is clear: access to nature is beneficial for our mental (and physical) health. We have probably discovered this for ourselves more than ever before in the past year, given our lockdown daily walks!
I wanted to share my learnings from a Nature and Recovery course I took when I was recovering from an episode with my mental health, as I found it really helpful. I’ve written below about the fascinating science, the incredible benefits to us and shared some suggestions on how to get back to nature if you’re not finding it easy to do so.
In the 1980s, R.S. Ulrich ran a study comparing hospital records of surgical patients that were matched based on similar demographics and operations; the only major difference between the pairs was that one had a brick wall view and the other had a view of trees from their hospital room. The results were impressive… Patients with the tree view complained less to nurses, took fewer painkillers and were discharged earlier. How incredible that a view of nature could improve your recovery that much!
Here is some interesting science that demonstrates the benefits of nature both physically and mentally…
- Fractals: Are naturally recurring self-repeating patterns, which can help us destress and in particular, relax our eyes, much more than when we look at the harsh hard lines of manmade structures. Think snowflakes and leaf patterns, and trees from trunk to branch to twig to leaf!
- Phytoncides: Are a naturally occurring chemical compound secreted by plants and trees, which ultimately helps them protect themselves better against bacteria, insects and fungi. To us, it’s that weird smell of tree and dirt after it rains, and while it isn’t particularly pleasant, it is important for us to breathe that in! By doing so we increase killer cells, which are white blood cells that attack bad cells in our body.
- Sunlight: Exposure to sunlight, particularly on our skin, is so good for us! It increases vitamin D, UV light and serotonin, which can give us more energy and help keep us calm, positive, and focused.
- Sounds: You may have heard about this from Bauer’s very own ‘Sound and Colour’ audio presentation, but sounds are super helpful! We find them peaceful, restorative and stress-reducing. Waves crashing on the beach mimics deep breaths, which calms the nervous system. Bird song makes us relax because our primitive instinct knows there are no predators around when we hear this. It’s important to try unplugging those headphones when in nature so we can absorb all the sounds around us, take a listen and enjoy!
- Soil bacteria: This may sound a little odd but there’s a micro-organism in soil that boosts the immune system, so get playing in it! Breathe it in, dig it up, play in it, get gardening! Get your hands and feet dirty with soil, it’s good for you.
- Sense of Awe: Taking a moment to really take in and appreciate what you’re looking at. From an incredible view to the wonder of tiny natural growth, magical things in nature, even admiring a small flower and how intricate it is can be beneficial.
What are the benefits to our bodies and minds? Nature has been proven to…
- Reduce depression, anxiety, stress, mental fatigue, anger, aggression, experiences of pain, cognitive decline in older adults, as well as reducing symptoms of ADHD, trauma, psychosis and addiction.
- Increases longevity, energy, and improves mood, sleep, confidence, self-esteem, cognitive functioning, creativity and boosts immune functioning.
- Improves relationships, sense of gratitude, patience, generosity, selflessness, life satisfaction and motivation!
How can you get the full benefits of nature? Are you struggling to make time or get back to nature? Here are some tips:
- Get your walk on! I make it part of my daily routine, while working from home, I’ve replaced the commute in the morning with a walk before starting the day, and sometimes in the evening to switch off from work.
- Walk and talk – turn those one-to-one Teams meetings to mobile, get your shoes on and get out for a walk! Fresh air AND getting into nature will feel great.
- Gardening – even just watering indoor plants can help you connect with nature
- Grounding your feet in the earth – a great thing to do when in the backyard, the park or while on a picnic
- Just get in nature, however you can – beach, river, trees, park, backyard, looking at flowers, absorbing yourself in nature, make the most with headphones out.
- Being mindful in nature… What can you see? Be specific – think of 5 things. What can you hear? Name 4 different sounds. What can you feel – grounded feet, sitting on a park bench? What can you smell… phytoncides?
So get in touch with nature, go for a walk, see what you can see, see what you can feel. Can you pick a fractal, can you smell phytoncide? Enjoy, and relax 😊