Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 has a theme of connecting of nature. As we approach the end of Mental Health Awareness Week this year, I hope there’s been a time for all of us to connect with nature in some way.
As psychological professionals (as well as many other colleagues in health and care), we may feel we have spent more time supporting others than looking after ourselves. There are reports and evidence of the impact on delivering services over the past 15 months or so and the disproportionate impacts on some of our colleagues – whether through job role or demographic characteristics. While the statistics are helpful, our experiences are personal to us and the narratives we hear in our roles are personal to the people whom we try to help. These narratives are often moving and our role can be as ‘containers’ for the powerful emotions associated with them.
Nature can be a container for us and there has been much written about the benefits of being outdoors and the positive effects of green spaces, plants and wildlife. Mindfulness approaches also highlight the benefits of attending to the present and focusing on the world around. From a therapeutic perspective, the use of different stimuli can help with self-soothing and with distraction. The experience of different temperatures on the skin or the feel of the wind or rain can have a helpful impact in taking us away from difficult thoughts and feelings. This can bring a different perspective which can help in managing better.
The inconsistencies of the weather in our country may not be wholly negative as not everyone’s idea of glorious weather is warm sunshine and preferably on a beach. Some years ago, I was working with staff groups looking at positive self-soothing imagery. While many people identified sunshine on a warm beach, for some even imaginary sand between the toes was undesirable. Some participants identified rainy days where they were cosy and warm whereas described enjoying being active out in the rain and elements. Others were very clear about it being neither too cold nor too hot, and not too sunny nor too cloudy. Settings varied from exotic beaches to mountaintops to suburban gardens.
Everyone’s idea of connecting with nature is likely to be different and there will be a range of experiences that can help. For those of us who may find going out and access to nature difficult, imagining the experience can be helpful and using pictures can help too.
Mental Health Awareness is not just for one week but for life (to borrow and adapt a phrase). The important thing for all of us is to keep connecting with nature and keep being self-aware and keep looking after ourselves and each other.