It wouldn’t have been a British Bank Holiday Monday without howling winds and downpours, would it? Tempted as I was to pull the blankets back over me and hibernate with copious mugs of tea and some chocolate, a commitment I made to myself earlier this year forced me to drag myself out of bed, put on a raincoat and venture outdoors.
Now, let me say firstly that nobody should feel bad if they chose the former option; an indoor day is a perfectly acceptable way of spending a cold and gloomy Monday! However, back in the depths of winter, during the bitterly cold dawning of 2021, I decided I would document my daily life by taking one picture each day. Now, while the room I rent in Richmond Fellowship supported housing is very comfortable, it does not make for particularly arresting photographic material. So come rain or shine, hail or snow, I have little option but to venture outside into nature to get an interesting shot.
My camera is my equivalent of a dog. Some people find that their pet gives them the incentive they need to get up into their local hills, fields and parks, or perhaps along the coast. For me, it’s photography. For you it may be something else entirely. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that a daily dose of nature can have an enormous positive impact on your mental health.
I suffer from depression and anxiety and at the lowest points in my life I have hidden myself away for days, even weeks on end, when even getting dressed and putting on a pair of shoes seemed like a monumental effort for which I just couldn’t muster the energy. But it was during a spell on a mental health ward that my mind was re-awakened to the healing power of nature. I was taken across to a nearby park; it was mid-summer, and my dulled senses stirred gradually to take in the glorious bright colours and fresh aromas. It wasn’t an instant transformation from despair to jumping around for joy, but when I look back at that day it was a crucial moment in calming my anxious, muddled mind and making me feel more alive again.
Now, it is my automatic response when I start to feel low, or when my chest and shoulders feel tight and I feel the onset of panic and worry. Some days it will take me a long time to get going – I’ve been known to sit on the edge of the bed with one shoe on for an hour or more. Eventually, though, I get out of the front door. Even if I only make it to the local park which is a couple of minutes from home, just sitting on a bench and watching trees sway in the breeze and raindrops patter leaves and squirrels and birds flit around in their never-ending quest for food gives my mind a new, relaxing focus.
It’s also a great time to practise mindfulness; more information on how to do that can be found here. https://www.swemploymentandwellbeing.org.uk/resilience-mindfulness/ Being able to block out the external and internal noise and concentrate the mind on the here and now takes practice, but can have huge benefits.
I’m off now to take my daily picture and I can see the early clouds have given way to bright blue skies – it’s much easier on days like this!