Nature: “Our Great Untapped Resource For A Mentally Healthy Future”

Nature: “Our Great Untapped Resource For A Mentally Healthy Future”
Studies claim that spending just 20 minutes in the open air can provide energy equal to a cup of coffee, while enabling relaxation state to increase as much as 55%.
  • This week, 10-16 May 2021, marks Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. 
  • This year’s theme is Nature. Studies have found that nature is central to our psychological and emotional health. 
  • Workers can greatly benefit from spending more time outdoors engaging with nature. Below are some tips to help companies and individuals set up an outdoor workspace or meeting place.  

This week, 10-16 May 2021, marks Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. 

This year’s theme is Nature, and it comes at a time when the UK is emerging from a three-month coronavirus-induced lockdown and looking ahead to brighter days in the company of friends and family. 

So what role does nature have to play? 

We are an ‘indoor species’ after all; even outside of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, studies suggest that we humans spend on average 90% of our time indoors. So, what is it about green spaces that makes us feel better? 

According to The Mental Health Foundation, nature is central to our psychological and emotional health. For most of human history, we lived as part of nature – “it is only in the last five generations that so many of us have lived and worked in a context that is largely separated from nature”. 

Research carried out by the Foundation, with people living in the UK, found: 

  • 70% agreed that being close to nature improves their mood. 
  • 49% said being close to nature helps them to cope with stress. 
  • 45% said that visiting green spaces, such as parks, helped them to cope throughout the pandemic. 

‘Nature’ by definition can mean green spaces such as parks, woodland or forests, and blue spaces like rivers, wetlands, beaches or canals. It can also include trees on an urban street, private gardens, verges and even indoor plants or window boxes. 

Connecting to Nature 

Going further, the research claims that it’s not just about being close to nature that counts, but how we interact and connect with it. 

This feeling of connectedness is key when it comes to benefiting from being outdoors, or being close to a natural environment. 

“Improving people’s relationship with nature comes through simple, yet meaningful engagement with nature. For example, we found that simply tuning in and noticing the good things in urban nature led to significant and sustained improvements in people’s mental health.” 

The research identified five types of activity that activate people’s connection with nature: 

  1. Senses: Noticing and actively engaging with nature through the senses, e.g. listening to birdsong, smelling wild flowers, or watching the breeze in the trees. 
  2. Emotion: Experiencing the joy and calm nature can bring, e.g. talking about, and reflecting on your feelings about nature. 
  3. Beauty: Simply taking time to appreciate nature’s beauty, e.g. exploring the beauty of nature through art, music or in words. 
  4. Meaning:  Exploring and celebrating how nature brings meaning to life, e.g. exploring how nature appears in songs and stories, poems and art, or by celebrating the signs and cycles of nature. 
  5. Compassion: Taking actions that are good for nature, e.g. creating homes for nature, and making ethical product choices. 

Nature and the Workplace 

The question is, for those who work in offices, or who live and/or work in urban areas with limited access to natural surroundings, how can we benefit more from the natural healing abilities of the great outdoors? 

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The Foundation notes that “the important thing is to switch on your senses and really connect” in one or more of the activity types listed above. 

For workers, this could include spending time outside during lunch breaks, walking or cycling to work, exercising outdoors before or after work, or spending time in natural environments over the weekend or on days off. 

Another way to absorb more of nature’s healing abilities is to take your work outside. 

Whether taking a Zoom call, meeting in-person, or simply working outdoors in the company of chattering birds, working al fresco can offer numerous health benefits. 

Elise Nicpon from Room & Board Business Interiors referenced studies that claim spending just 20 minutes in the open air can provide energy equal to a cup of coffee, while enabling relaxation state to increase as much as 55%. 

Nicpon offers the following advice when setting up an outdoor workspace or meeting place: 

  1. Chairs with ‘breathable’ fabric will help you stay cool in warmer weather. Your chair should be both supportive and comfortable, with a high contoured back for support. 
  2. Your work surface should be the same height as your desk, such as a small outdoor dining table. You could also switch to an outdoor bar top table that doubles up as a standing desk. 
  3. Use an adjustable umbrella for sun protection and screen glare protection. Ensure you can tilt it, so you can reposition it throughout the day. 

Countless studies have shown that even the smallest amount of time spent with nature can help reduce stress, balance our mood and help us to feel more positive. 

Our relationship with nature is a critical factor in supporting good mental health, particularly during these challenging times. Why not commit to spending more time outdoors this week, this month, or over the coming year? 

As the Mental Health Foundation puts it: “Nature is our great untapped resource for a mentally healthy future.” 

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