In nature, spring is a season full of hope and promise, which makes it the perfect time to get outdoors and improve your mental health.
As the UK begins to ease out of full national lockdowns during April and May, the opportunities to be outside and see other people continue to grow like the spring shows of candy-coloured blossom.
The lockdown situation has certainly taken its toll on people’s mental health, but nature and the outdoors can be helpful in regaining some balance.
Whenever I am feeling fraught, a long walk is my remedy. It might not work for you, but the outdoors can assist in other ways. Follow these spring mental health tips and give yourself the power to help fight the malaise.
Spring mental health tips
It might seem obvious, but just get outdoors! Even a little time spent in fresh air, whether you’re working up a sweat on a run, enjoying a leisurely walk, or just packing a picnic and sitting in the sunshine, can work a modicum of magic on your mental (and physical) health.
It gives you time to think, time to breathe, time to just be, and hopefully restore a little order to a muddled mind. If you’re still shielding at home, or unable to leave home as much as you’d like, try and get outside in your own garden. Have lunch outside, read a book in the sun, or feed the birds (tired from all that springtime mating and nest-building).
Personally, I like to walk, and if I really need a mental-health boost, I’ll go by myself to just be with my own thoughts and gain some clarity. It doesn’t take long, and then I can simply absorb the lovely surroundings. I walked 10 miles last weekend, stopping and sitting against a tree on a riverbank with my packed lunch and a flask of hot chocolate. I returned home refreshed, repaired and ready to throw myself back into the usual pandemonium of family life.
I know it’s not always easy to take those first few steps outside if you are suffering with a low mood, but every journey starts with a single step. Make that single step and see how far it can take you. The beauty of the outdoors community is that no one knows your circumstances, no one judges your attire, and almost everyone has a smile, a hello and sometimes a conversation for you.
Current guidance about how many people you can see and in what setting are listed on the government’s website.
When you can meet with friends outdoors, the power of a good chinwag cannot be underestimated. I’ve shared this tip before, but it’s a winner: designate the first part of your walk/picnic/sitting in the playground watching the kids to a good old moan. Get it all out. Whenever I walk the usual three miles with a friend, we have a “moaning” mile to kick off and get out all our troubles. By mile two, those troubles have been left behind. Give it a go.
Of course, laughter and togetherness are also excellent remedies for a low mood. That’s what friends are for.
If you can’t yet meet with friends, make video calls and keep your spirits up by staying connected to those you love.
Become a volunteer
You can earn a tremendous sense of pride and achievement by volunteering some of your time. There are plentiful opportunities to volunteer in the outdoors in spring, thanks to more daylight hours, warmer temperatures and plenty of jobs to complete before summer.
Litter picking is an easy place to start. You can set off by yourself with gloves, a grabber and a bag, or join a local group who meet regularly to pick (equipment is usually provided). Facebook is a great place to find local volunteering groups. Organisations, such as the Canal and River Trust, also ask volunteers to help with the problem of litter. The trust is currently running the Plastics Challenge: if every person visiting the waterways picked up a single piece of plastic, there would be none left within a year.
I’ve just joined a volunteer army of rock painters, who are spreading messages of kindness throughout our hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon via the medium of acrylic paint and smooth stones! It’s not going to change the world, but it will make someone smile.
You don’t need any special skills for the majority of the volunteering opportunities available in the outdoors, just a willingness to get stuck in and make a difference.
Garden and grow
Help your local wildlife by planting a bird, bee and butterfly friendly garden. Gardening is a simple but consuming task; focus on the work of your green fingers and you might find it relaxes your troubled mind. Seeing something grow and bloom is a powerful boost for your mental health too; a pretty reminder that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to.
We started growing fruit and vegetables in our first family allotment last year. Some thrived, some barely survived (some didn’t grow at all), but the time spent outdoors, nurturing this little plot full of hope, was still a positive force for my mental health.
Find an outdoors hobby
From sedate pastimes such as landscape painting and star gazing, to adrenaline-pulsing activities like rock climbing or bungee jumping, there is an outdoor hobby to suit your interests and abilities. Focussing on a hobby can help to shift difficult thoughts, maybe temporarily, potentially permanently. Consider beekeeping, camping, photography, or geocaching.
A final note
If you are struggling, please reach out and talk to someone. Speak to a medical professional, message a friend, call a relative, email me if you like. No shame. No judgement. There are many people out there having similar feelings of desperation, despair and depression, more than you probably realise.
Jeanette for Ever Wild Wellness at Ever Wild Outdoors.
Ever Wild Wellness: promoting wellness via outdoor pursuits and therapy techniques inspired by nature.