Monday 10th – Sunday 16th May 2021
This week in the UK is Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme this year is Nature – specifically, looking at how connecting more with nature can benefit our mental health. The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a large increase in the number of people struggling with mental ill health. Increased isolation is just one of many aspects that has negatively affected us all over the last year, and public health specialists in the British Medical Journal have warned that “the mental health impact of the pandemic is likely to last much longer than the physical health impact”.
Now more than ever, we need to reach out to each other, check in with our friends and family, and start conversations about our mental health and the things we can do to improve it. The Mental Health Foundation’s research shows that more than 1 in 2 UK adults say that being closer to nature improved their mental health, 4 in 10 say it makes them feel less worried or anxious, and nearly 2 in 3 say that being closer to nature helps them experience positive emotions.
Over the course of the pandemic, and especially during the lockdowns, many people have turned to nature for solace. The MHF found that during the first lockdown “…going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies and 45% of us reported being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health. Websites which showed footage from webcams of wildlife saw hits increase by over 2000%. Wider studies also found that during lockdowns, people not only spent more time in nature but were noticing it more.”
In a time where we were most isolated, it appears that many rekindled their love for nature and wildlife, but this isn’t a new concept. ‘Shinrin yoku’ – directly translated as ‘forest bathing’ is a therapy that was developed in Japan in the 1980s. The idea is that you go for a walk in a forest without any tech, any goals or expectations, and open your senses to the trees and nature around you. “To bathe in the forest or nature means to bask in it. Your five senses take it in. You smell the flowers; you taste the wild blackberries; you see the tall and magnificent trees, some of which may have been there for centuries. You hear the sounds of nature around you, from the cicada’s tymbal to the birds chirping, and the frogs croaking. You feel the forest deep within your soul. It is transforming.”
Finding this level of awareness of the space around you is incredibly grounding, and can be done in any green space around the world. Despite being in central London, at the Royal Academy of Music we are very lucky to be on the doorstep of Regent’s Park. Other great green spaces include Hyde Park, and Hampstead Heath, and – if you’re willing to hop on the overground for a few stops – Richmond park is also well worth the trip. Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park have wilder areas than some of the London parks, and are large enough that you can lose yourself in the centre, forgetting that you are still in the city!
Spending time outdoors among nature has been essential for many, but there are also fabulous benefits of bringing nature indoors and into your home. Studies have shown that the psychological benefits of indoor plants can include an improved mood, reduced stress levels, increased productivity, and improved attention span. Biophilia is a concept that humans are attracted to all that is alive and vital, suggesting we have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Houseplants have become much more popular in the last year, and the concept of having something to take care of is very good for our mental health, not to mention that the addition of beautiful green foliage to a small London flat can do wonders to your mood.
One of the MHF’s goals for this week is to encourage people to experience nature, share nature, and talk about nature. As well as walking around your local green space, forest bathing, and houseplant collecting, you could join an outdoor activity in a natural space. RAM’s very own Yoga teacher – 3rd year undergraduate cellist Shannon Ross – currently runs a Sunday Yoga class in Regent’s Park (open to all levels, with an optional ‘pay-what-you-can’ donation). The yoga itself is grounding, and helps bring your focus back to your own body, and doing itin an outdoor space is a great way to not only reconnect with yourself, but to bathe in the nature around you. (For more info, contact Shannon via email: email@example.com or via Instagram: @shannoro ).
So, be gentle to yourself this Mental Health Awareness Week. Start conversations with your loved ones, and if possible, try to spend some time getting back in touch with your senses; breathing and basking in the natural spaces around you, wherever you are.