It is mental health awareness. It does come around each year – but I think this year – with all that is going on around us as we enter 58 days of lockdown – is a really important to consider for us all.

Several people I know talk about  feelings of frustration, uncertainty, loss of control, depression, anxiety, loneliness, boredom and for quite a few, they are dealing with really tough realities at home as tensions mount. For those trying to teach resistant children that has caused much stress.

There are others who are loving this slowness of time, their outdoor exercise, bird song and general engagement with nature, family and themselves.

As a species we thrive on clarity…knowing where our boundaries are…what we can and cannot do. The ‘maybe ‘and ‘perhaps ‘ of  this crisis throws us out of balance,  it is harder to feel confident of any planning, and we feel less secure. Having clarity makes us feel held and contained.

Last week I had thought that we were on slow but positive journey out of lockdown. And then.. then that didn’t happen, and different news emerged with varied messages…and I was left trying to  make sense of things again both personally and in the Wilderness Foundation. Do we plan to start offering nature days in June…or will that be September? Do we start youth at risk groups again in July…or will that need to be much later on? Can we do a trail in October?

I am not blaming anyone in leadership at the moment – what a hell hole of a job – with such a hell hole of an epidemic. It is just that we as vulnerable humans don’t quite know what is going on. No-one does – most likely – across the whole globe. And all this ambivalence can lead to lowering moods, outbursts, anxiety and depression.

Mental health comes in many guises and forms. One size does not fit all. But what is guaranteed is there are proven things we can do to improve our mood, even if it is not an all- encompassing cure.

In fact, I think the fact that we want a mental health cure is part of the problem too. Mostly people who experience a mental health problem may have visitations of the symptoms and feelings all through their whole lives, post therapy. What helps this for the long haul as we build resilience, is the development of self- awareness, reading the signs when we are feeling low or not coping, and then developing a survival  strategy, and tools to meet the challenge when it hits. The goal is to be less debilitated by it as we practice and explore our responses and beliefs that bring us down,  and find a way to keep going until our boat rights itself again…which fortunately a lot of the time, it does.

As a nature therapy advocate I always seek out solutions in the natural world don’t  be too surprised at the tips I have on offer, and why!

Tip 1: Find a reason that really makes sense to you as to why you want to feel better and more positive. It always has to start with you at the core. No matter how others try to motivate you into action it is a waste of time unless you are ready. Try to think of one brilliant reason as a goal to work for …a best friend’s wedding, seeing a loved one soon, sick of feeling rubbish, travel later in the year,)… make a simple goal.

Tip 2: Move yourself and your body and go for a walk or some form of exercise outdoors. If you are feeling down this can make a huge difference. Firstly by moving your body it gets your body and  blocked emotions moving too…it will help you think more clearly as oxygen moves easily round the body and your brain, and the shapes of leaves, branches, stalks, and other patterned objects, help calm your nervous system. Often one of the hardest things about being low is that feeling of being stuck. Make sure you move…this is one thing that only you can do.

Tip 3: Make sure you connect your senses to the natural world around you. Not only does this give you a tremendous connection to nature (proven through our research with University of Essex to improve mood, resilience, self esteem and hope), but it also takes you out of your thoughts – your own head. Having ruminating thoughts or as the Germans call it (ear worms) is one of the hardest aspects of anxiety and depression. Catch hold of yourself and listen to bird calls, wind in the trees, crunching of gravel underfoot, your own heartbeat…see life in you and around you. Think of the seasons and try to accept that you too have seasons. Winter which is more bleak and shut down, leading to spring with new life, and summer to relish the fruits of the seasons, bringing bounty and beauty, and then autumn, time to slow down, let the home fires burn and crackle,  changing colours and building strength for the tough times. Where are you now on the spectrum? How does nature do all this? What is the need for changing seasons? How do your seasons serve you?

Perhaps an outcome of this exercise will be to help you be more self -compassionate and accepting, more understanding of yourself if you are in a winter phase and would rather be spring for example.

Tip 4: Adapt and adapt and adapt. One of the research outcomes around depression is that often it is linked to rigid thinking. What I mean by this is that things have to be a certain way…expectations and judgement of others can be full of disappointment and resentment…and that applies to ourselves too. In Nature..the trees that flex in strong winds survive better through bending and bouncing back.

Beliefs are not facts and each time you catch yourself beating yourself up about something, or being super critical, or holding limiting beliefs, ask yourself truly where is the evidence. You absolutely can take on new beliefs and thoughts. They are not fixed in stone. And make sure you find ones that help and don’t hinder you.

Tip 5: Know thyself and then let go

Being able to work with what and where you are in life – or the present – is a tool that helps us cope and make sense of the world. Deciding with clarity where your fixed point of your values and morals  is, and where you cannot compromise. But then allow the rest of the things you have no ownership over or control of, to wash over you, not rock your world, but float your boat. Give way to what you cannot control and flex wherever it is possible. This is true survival strategy.

Choose what you can control and let go of what you cannot. Draw yourself two circles on paper or in the dust. Put in one “What I have in my control “ and the other ‘What I cannot control”.

Write a list for each or find natural materials that you can use to populate your rings with your ideas and thoughts. So often we sweat over things that we have no  control over which can cause us anxiety and worry. For example – we are not in control of the government and Covid 19 – but we can be in control of eating well, staying healthy by taking exercise everyday, doing a meditation, taking a few minute each day to plan a structure for yourself. These are within our power – and – we can do as much or as little as we want – it is up to us.

Tip 6:  Make Space physically and mentally for yourself. In Nature giving space to other animals is a conflict resolving mechanism. If you are on foot in the bush and you come close to animals uncomfortable with your presence, you withdraw quietly and give them space and respect. It is no different with humans. If someone is prickly and moody, give them space too. We are human animals and need company – so when they are ready they will come back to you. By doing this we protect ourselves and show empathy and respect to others. These are proven mechanisms to feel better and improve move.

Tip 7: Kindness.

Be kind to yourself – forgive your mistakes and turn them into learning and not punishment. When something does not work out as you had hoped, ask yourself: What could I have done differently? Try to work out what happened and what steps you could have taken to achieve a better outcome? How can you support yourself better in the future by acting or thinking differently? For example if you were feeling bruised by a comment and lashed out causing a big row, only to discover the comment was not meant to hurt…how can you manage your emotional reaction next time? What questions could you ask the other person before exploding? How can you choose a response that leaves you feeling more in control or happy. How can you consider their needs in the process?

Tip 8: The most important one: Buddha says: ‘Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?”

Ill leave that to you to decipher. I try to practice this everyday…and it works…I feel much happier when I don’t need to prove myself. Sometimes I sit quietly with an inner smile because I am confident in my knowledge, but don’t need to cause a fight over it. Let go.

Jo Roberts