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With Nature, In Mind - A Perspective

It's mental health awareness week so I wanted to write something about my experience of mental health and the importance of nature on mental health in general.

Let's get started!

Image source: Bethia Santi Bridges

Mental Health, what is it?

So, we all have a brain, the physical organ that you see on medical scans. In that brain, we have a mind that holds our awareness, our perception and our judgement. Somewhere in there is also our consciousness, our thoughts, our feelings and wisdom. All of these elements are invisible. That's why mental health issues are sometimes referred to as invisible illnesses. Mental health is about being aware of and caring for those invisible elements.

Mental health is not a negative. Whether you have suffered from negative feelings or not, you still have a brain and a conscious mind that mental health applies to. It's very rare to have never experienced any form of mental health struggle (in yourself or someone close to you) but it can be difficult for people to be empathetic and compassionate - something that we should all practice. That's exactly why mental health awareness is important - because it really does effect every single human being at one point or another and conversations about it should be normalised.

Image source: Bethia Santi Bridges

I've been aware of the depths of mental illness since I can remember, it's always been a part of my life because I grew up surrounded by complex people and complex situations. Without going into specific details, I've observed the effects of mental health on the people closest to me. This includes direct experience or exposure to death, grief, trauma, depression, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, dementia, anxiety and personality disorders, among other things within my close network of people. Now obviously this had a knock on effect as a child, as a teenager, and into adulthood. I consider myself pretty strong minded, but it's taken a lot of hard work, research and understanding into the darkest corners of my mind and the minds of others - learning how emotions work, the impact of nature vs nurture, cause and effect, and fight or flight mode.

Part of the reason why we started Wild City was to promote the benefits of nature on mental health and well-being through the concept of Biophilia (meaning love of life, or the innate connection that humans have with nature). This business is about being creative and environmentally conscious, but the meaning behind it runs much much deeper than the brightly coloured surface. Similarly, the importance of nature on us as human beings runs much deeper than surface beauty. Alongside the conservation, preservation and restoration of nature in a physical sense (which is obviously very important!), the psychological benefits of nature are vital to our wellbeing. As a species, we are interconnected to nature - we are nature.

Image source: Bethia Santi Bridges

These psychological benefits are well researched, documented and ingrained within many cultures worldwide both historically and more recently. Spending time in nature is scientifically proven to reduce stress, calm anger, improve your physical health, improve confidence and self-esteem, boost your mood, improve concentration and focus, decrease feelings of anxiety, enable you to sleep better and reduce symptoms of depression! I know that I have always used it as an escape or a way to reset and refresh my brain. In the western world, heavy technology use is massively contributing to the rise in mental health issues, particularly among young people. The less time we spend outside, the less opportunity we have to reset and recharge. Technology however is not completely to blame. We live in a fast paced society where busy lifestyles, long working hours and juggling multiple responsibilities is the norm. We are social creatures by nature, and that's been magnified to such an extent where we make plans, write lists and fill calendars until we end up booking in time slots with friends months down the line. If we haven't got plans there's often a pressure to create them, and equally feelings of guilt if we say no - because we're taught to be 'yes' people right? Who wants to have no where to go and nothing to do or a fear of missing out? Eventually this way of life naturally becomes draining and overwhelming, which influences mental burnout.

Nature allows us to stop, breathe and slow down.

Image source: Bethia Santi Bridges

During my Master's Degree, I created a project called 'With Nature, In Mind' that was all about the psychological relationship between humans and nature. Part of my research delved into the relevance of nature in Japanese culture - specifically Japanese gardens, Shintoism and forest bathing. I mention this because I think there is a lot we can learn from these ancient traditions and actually, 'green prescriptions' are becoming more common here in the UK, now that the positive impacts of nature are being medically recognised and needed more than ever.

The practice of forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku) is a form of evidence based nature/eco therapy. It began in 1980's Japan and is used as a medicinal practice for the purpose of benefiting physical and psychological health & wellbeing. It combines aspects of meditation and mindfulness but is a simple and effective way to improve stress, mood, focus and sleep levels alongside some physiological symptoms too. There have been numerous studies on the proven healing effects of this practice such as this 2019 example, 'Medical empirical research on forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku): a systematic review' where participants' subheath was considered. In this study, subhealth is described as 'a third state between health and disease' with symptoms including fatigue, poor sleep, forgetfulness, physical pain and a lowered immune system. It states that increased numbers of people have developed sub health symptoms due to the development of the global economy and urbanisation, which is really interesting to think about in relation to western culture and the huge rise in depression, anxiety and chronic pain across all ages. The study results demonstrate that

forest bathing activities might have the following merits: remarkably improving cardiovascular function, hemodynamic indexes, neuroendocrine indexes, metabolic indexes, immunity and inflammatory indexes, antioxidant indexes, and electrophysiological indexes; significantly enhancing people’s emotional state, attitude, and feelings towards things, physical and psychological recovery, and adaptive behaviors; and obvious alleviation of anxiety and depression. (Wen et al., 2019)

The general consensus is that the restorative effects of nature alleviate mental and physical health issues caused by modern day stresses and pressures. It is now being recognised in western cultures, and endorsed by relevant organisations such as National Geographic, National Trust and Forestry England (click the links for extra info!).

Image source: Bethia Santi Bridges

I could promote this non stop and have so much more to say on mental health, nature and creativity, but ultimately, if you are finding things tough - go outside, find yourself a patch of nature, walk, sit, listen, breathe and notice the change.

And there you have it, we have reached the end of my mental health ramble! Hope it's been somewhat interesting/informative, please let me know your thoughts.

- Beth

To do list: Practice mindfulness, and remember that everyone has invisible demons they are often battling alone.

Image source: Bethia Santi Bridges


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