Keep your mental health flourishing
Our mental health is not just about an absence of mental illness, it’s about:
- how we prioritise our self care to maximise wellbeing,
- how we live to the best of our abilities,
- and how we contribute to our communities in the way that we would like.
Mental health exists on a continuum from languishing to flourishing. We all move up and down this continuum, depending on what is going on for us in our lives. As we come to the end of a very challenging and difficult year, I’ve been reflecting on how spending time in nature and taking part in Fresh Air Fridays’ sessions, either virtually or face to face, has enabled me to move my mental health towards the flourishing end of the continuum.
Getting out of Overwhelm
When I feel overwhelmed and unable to function, I take a break and go out for a walk. This enables me to slow down my breathing and to focus on the here and now, rather than the racing thoughts that can take hold in my head. When we are overwhelmed, the amygdala has started to take over the main functioning in our brain and moving us into fight, flight or freeze mode. When this happens the brain is unable to proactively process thoughts and make decisions, it is focused on what needs to happen immediately to avoid danger.
Getting outside and connecting with nature initiates the slowing down for me. Putting some space between the racing thoughts and me, is a great leveller. From a physical perspective, the movement and rhythm of my body starts to bring balance back into it. Once I am in my local forest, I often just stop and take in a few deep breaths to connect me with my surroundings and to notice what is going on in my body.
I find being outside gives me a chance to slow down and be in the moment, I use my senses to become aware of what is around me. I have a preference towards visual and start my slowing down by spending time noticing what I can see around me. Then, I usually move on to what I can hear – this means I stop the inner chatter and really focus on my surroundings. In the forest there is often birdsong, which I don’t truly notice until I actively listen. What I’ve found over time is that the longer I listen, the more I can hear and it radiates out from those things I can hear that are close by, to sounds all around me, in a 360° panorama, and also at different distances away.
Processing Tricky Problems
When I go out for a walk and stop trying to focus on solving tricky problems, I regularly notice they seem to solve themselves. Whilst I am busy being present to what is around me, the unconscious areas of my brain are busy working through the problem at hand. Giving the brain a chance to process and sort out everything going on in my mind leaves me feeling more motivated and energised.
Connection with like minded people
Sometimes I enjoy going out into nature alone, but on other occasions I enjoy joining a Fresh Air Fridays’ session. What I love about this is having time to meet and chat with other people. It is a great time to put aside worries and connect with others whilst walking. I’ve made several close friends and enjoy the supportive relationships we have created with each other.
Transformation and building resilience
During all of our Fresh Air Fridays’ sessions we have a topic to discuss. On the surface they can appear simple, yet I find that when I have the space to reflect and then to walk and talk with someone else, I discover something new for myself. I always leave with an action, and over time these actions have built up to transform my life. I now have a range of tools and strategies to build my resilience and navigate life’s challenges in a way that I want to.
The challenges 2020 have brought both into my work and personal life have not been easy but, with what I’ve learned from my time in nature and taking part in the Fresh Air Fridays programmes, means I feel I am in control of my decisions and am making long lasting changes in my life.
As 2020 draws to a close and we move into a new year, I urge you to consider spending more time in nature in 2021, it can be transformational.
If you want to explore more about what Fresh Air Fridays can offer, why not join one of our Breathing Space sessions which run every day of the working week.