To acknowledge Mental Health Awareness week, we caught up with our friend and Trainer in Mental Health Emma, to talk about how spending time in the outdoors and surrounded by nature can have significant benefits to wellbeing. 

What mental health issues do people tend to struggle with nowadays? 

Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain at the moment. According to the latest statistics from the Mental Health Foundation, 8% of people meet the criteria for diagnosis. Depression is also very common with 4-10% of people in England experiencing it in their lifetime. 

What techniques or tools would you recommend in order to alleviate that pressure?

We all lead busy lives where stress and pressure are often unavoidable. However, what causes the stress and anxiety is different for everyone. I’d recommend firstly working out what your triggers are, and how the stress manifests bodily in you. When we become more aware, we are more likely to know when we need to take action to alleviate the pressure.

We forget to breathe when we feel stressed or anxious so I’d recommend breathing techniques. Things like meditation or mindfulness can be helpful. Keeping active is also important, whether it's walking, boxing, or Tai Chi. Try some things out and find what works for you. Swimming is the best stress reliever for me. 

How can spending time outdoors benefit mental health and wellbeing? 

Countless studies have proven that nature has a positive effect on your mental health. Noticing what you see, hear, and experience in nature can improve your mood in that moment. There is a strong connection between spending time outdoors and improvements in your mental health and wellbeing.

Being outside in natural light can also be helpful if you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects people during particular seasons or times of year.

Is there scientific evidence to support this?

A new study looking into the way that green spaces impact mental wellbeing points to just that. The research was the largest of its kind involving 95,000 participants across 10 different UK cities. The study uncovered “a protective effect of greenness on depression”, showing that those living in leafier communities were 4% less likely to suffer from major depressive disorder.

You personally enjoy spending time outdoors - how does it help you? 

I feel at my happiest when I’m outdoors. I struggled with anxiety, depression and an eating disorder for most of my 20s. Spending time outdoors was an extremely important part of my recovery. I especially love wild and remote places and the ocean.

City living can be stressful, I find swimming amazing. I started swimming outdoors through the winter 5 years ago and I’ve not looked back, it gets me up and out and prepared for the day. 

The shock of the cold water transports me right into the present moment, my worries disappear. The initial shock is followed by a surrender to the cold and a feeling of aliveness for the rest of the day. For me swimming is also about the community of people that swim all year round too.

Have you got any tips for how to incorporate outdoor time in your daily routine?

I cycle to get around, which combines exercise with being outside. However, cycling in London can be stressful and is not for everyone. Getting off the bus or tube a few stops early and walking could be a good way of incorporating outdoor time in your daily routine. Or trying to go for a walk in your lunch-break, rather than eat lunch at your desk.  


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