Mental Health Awareness Week and nature

Children building a bug hotel © Katharine Davies 

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (10th-16th May), and at Dorset Wildlife Trust we are delighted that the theme for 2021, is nature. After a particularly hard year, we are probably all aware that spending time in nature is ‘good’ for us and has a positive impact on our physical and mental health – but exactly how has this been measured? Sally Welbourn explores what’s in it for us – and for wildlife where we live.

The Natural Health Service  

Nature is so beneficial for us that medical professionals are actually prescribing a dose of it to help treat certain conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes through activities such as regular walking or carrying out gardening activities. Statistics show that regular contact with nature could reduce your risk of heart attacks and diabetes by 50%. For our mental health wellbeing, an NHS scheme called ‘Green social prescribing’ has been launched, aiming to encourage the general public to volunteer in the local community, spending time with nature and people to stop social issues such as loneliness, inactivity and poor mental health in their tracks, reducing the need or medication and further treatment.

In Dorset, a scheme called ‘Nature Buddies’ is being launched to help support people living with anxiety or low confidence.

A Nature Buddy will be a volunteer whose role is to support individuals at a very personalised level to help gradually increase their confidence and ability to enjoy engaging with nature again. A nature buddy will find what suits to the person best and will support them on their journey to living happier and healthier.

Find out more about Nature Buddies 

Nature and children

They are the next generation, so what could be more important than looking after our children’s mental and physical health, but also promoting an appreciation and love for nature from a young age? The list of benefits for children is long, and include things like: increased confidence, promoting imagination and creativity, keeping weight down, and reducing stress – all of which are massively beneficial for managing a wide range of conditions children can suffer from such as ADHD or childhood obesity.  Nature is championed particularly for stress and fatigue in children, where according to the Attention Restoration Theory, urban environments require what’s called directed attention, which forces us to ignore distractions and exhausts our brains. In natural environments, we practice an effortless type of attention known as soft fascination that creates feelings of pleasure, not fatigue. Something we could all benefit from!

Soak up the sun (and get a house plant!)

In this country, some of us are deficient in vitamin D or will struggle to get our ‘quota’ to regulate calcium and phosphate in our bodies. But this is nothing that can’t be solved by… you guessed it, spending time outside, or even just opening the curtains and letting sunlight in. You’ll get a boost of serotonin and vitamin D and feel better for it! You can still benefit mentally from having plants in the house or at work – the natural patterns in leaves and branches activate the parahippocampus, which is involved in regulating emotion.  Plants in your living space have been proved to help stress and boost concentration and give you some lovely clean air to breathe!

Volunteering and joining like-minded people

This is where wildlife where we live will enjoy the benefits of our new founded or continued appreciation for nature.  Dorset Wildlife Trust has over 3,000 registered volunteers, who get involved with anything from wildlife gardening at the Kingcombe Centre (link), to getting knees deep on nature reserves with conservation work, attending a beach clean, or even helping us out in our offices and greeting visitors at one of our four visitor centres across Dorset. All of these activities tick the boxes for improving our physical and mental health and social connections.  We couldn’t continue our work in Dorset without the support of our volunteers and members, so we and Dorset’s wildlife are very grateful to those who support us and we love to see first-hand, the rewards our supporters reap from carrying out such important work.

Become a member of Dorset Wildlife Trust today

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Do something for wildlife

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Hedgehog ©Tom Marshall

Wildlife-friendly gardening

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