I’ve always been someone who takes significant comfort from the great outdoors. My childhood was pastoral – growing up surrounded by farmland in rural north east Scotland – and I’d spend hours at a time ensconced in the forests that bordered the fields. The dappled sunlight of late summer. The crunch of boots in snow in winter. The forest floor resplendent in autumnal colours as the leaves turned.
Forty-odd years later I can still vividly recall the scents, sights and sounds of that time, and that tangible feeling of tranquility, space and splendour that only being amongst nature brings still offers great solace – particularly amidst these complex and troubled times.
We’ve all experienced fundamental changes to our way of life during the last 12 months and it has been a challenge for every single one of us in one way or another. The pandemic has undoubtedly taken its toll on the world’s mental health, and the real fallout of the pandemic from this perspective is likely yet to be seen.
As we prepare for a welcome resumption of ‘normal’ activities like socialising, commuting, and working in an office environment this will potentially trigger further anxieties, and we must look to develop and strengthen coping strategies to help us manage the stress and uncertainty that will be prevalent during this transitional phase.
Mental health awareness and wellbeing has been firmly at the front of Space & Time’s cultural agenda for the last five years, in no small part due to our close ties with See Me, Scotland’s programme to end stigma and discrimination around mental health. We’ve subsequently aligned our own wellbeing agenda with key events across the mental health calendar.
Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week will take place from 10th-16th May 2021. This year’s theme is ‘nature’, something that is paramount for our psychological and emotional wellbeing. There is a wealth of statistics and resources on the website which demonstrate exactly why nature is so important for our mental health, and the Mental Health Foundation encourage all of us to experience, share and talk about nature during the week.
I’m lucky enough to live in the countryside on the western edge of Edinburgh and this ready access to nature has been hugely important to me over the past year. As working habits (and hours) warped, screen time increased and the work/ life balance lost its equilibrium at times, it was incredibly comforting to be able to down tools, turn off the laptop and go out for a run, or for a brisk walk with our newly acquired chocolate Labrador puppy Willow. She’s amazing and has been a great companion too – although I still need to teach her how to make a decent coffee.
Wandering by the river Almond or the Union canal I regularly encounter woodpecker, deer, heron and buzzard. In this way the pandemic seems to have done some good, with reduced traffic volumes and air pollution improving conditions for much of our indigenous wildlife.
The benefits of experiencing nature are clear – offering a chance to reset, to clear the head and to help prepare for the next challenge that life will throw your way. From a purely professional perspective I find that being in and around nature aids clarity of thinking and can facilitate a fresh approach to problem solving too.
I’d encourage anyone reading this to take regular breaks during the working week and try to get out and about daily in any way you can. Even in the most urban of locales there is nature to be found, experienced and enjoyed – whether it be your back garden, local canal path or park, or even on the walk to the office (if you can remember where that is).