Connect with nature for better mental health


Now that the weather has been on/off improving with spring in full swing, I’ve been getting out in the garden a lot more. During my pregnancy and throughout Miss E’s first year, the garden went downhill pretty quickly as it essentially became abandoned. But that didn’t stop me looking wistfully at it every time I walked past it as I went in and out the front door.

After recently spending a day weeding out two years’ worth of weeds, replacing dead plants, pruning back overgrown ones, and making sure everything was well watered, the garden has been looking so much better and it’s been so rewarding to see all the spring flowers coming out. Not to mention the added exercise of pulling, squatting and lifting, in addition to the fresh air.

Kiwis have a reputation for being ‘outdoorsy’, but it’s interesting how few of us actually make it outside for purposeful activity on a regular basis (and I mean more than just walking from the house to the car at the start of the work day, and from the car to the house at the end of it). A few years ago I went to Europe with the husband, and on a fine day the parks were packed with people reading books, playing sports, or even just lying on the grass watching the clouds go by. I live in an area of Auckland with many parks, but unless there are sports games on, they are almost always empty.


Why is the outdoors so important?

World Mental Health day is on Monday 10 October, and the Mental Health Foundation are encouraging Kiwis to head outside from 12pm – 1pm to discover how happiness and wellbeing blooms when we connect with the nature that surrounds us every day. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) and the theme this year is ‘connect with nature’.

Nearly 50% of New Zealanders will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, and depression is set to overcome heart disease as the biggest global health burden by 2020. Kiwis are increasingly stressed, leading sedentary lifestyles, sleeping less, working more, and have increasing levels of debt.

Research shows that fewer Kiwis than ever are connected to our natural environment, however, spending time in nature is great for your mental and physical health. Evidence proves that it makes us happier, decreases feelings of depression and anxiety, improves concentration, buffers against stress, makes our lives meaningful, makes us more likely to help others and reduces health inequalities related to poverty.

Make your way outside

Here are some ideas to help you get outdoors:

  • Go for a walk on the sand, grass or dirt (bonus points if you’re barefoot!).
  • On a sunny day, find a nice spot to lie down and do some cloud gazing.
  • Go for a bush or seaside walk with your family or friends.
  • Get into the garden and sow some seeds then watch them grow over time. If you have no garden space, buy some pots to do your planting instead.
  • Start a vege patch.
  • Help out a friend or neighbour with their gardening.
  • Go for a walk to a nearby park or green area during your lunch break and take five deep slow inhales/exhales (slowed purposeful breathing is great for reducing stress levels, and plants make oxygen so visualise that you’re getting more of it by standing next to them!).

For more information, visit www.mhaw.nz

Images / NZ Real Health

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