#MentalHealth Awareness Week - Nature & Action
14/05/2021 (Staff Post - Alice McBride )
This week's blog is a little different as we mark Mental Health Awareness Week. Our Volunteer Development Officer Alice McBride shares some of the small actions that had a positive impact on her mental health through lockdown.
- - -
This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme is Nature. A well-chosen and vital theme in my opinion, that speaks to the way in which we interact and impact the world around us. I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about my relationship with nature, and the huge disconnect I felt towards it over the course of the last year.
I grew up in the Welsh countryside and have always sought to find little moments of nature, be that when I’m completely surrounded by it or when it feels entirely distant. When I moved to Glasgow 10 years ago, I reconciled myself with the fact that the countryside was always on my doorstep. Beaches, hills, munros and lochs were all just a train ride away.
But last year the door was closed. We were told to stay local and not to leave the authority area, or was it health authority, or was it 5 miles beyond the boundary, or less than 10 miles?
The constant shift in guidance became so overwhelming that it felt safer to just tread the paths I knew. I wandered the same routes for months, passing the same houses, smiling at the same dog walkers and waving at the neighbours I knew who were also out for their daily exercise. I avoided the parks for months for fear they would be crowded. My interactions with nature were kept within the same bubble, and in the winter months that bubble felt very dark and grey.
If you’re reading this and thinking “well you were just paranoid, you restricted yourself and you could have done more”, you’re absolutely right I was. But I don’t think I was alone in that paranoia, and as the second lockdown went on I realised that even when it eventually ended, I would still be locked down. Unless I changed.
So what helped? Well, I got help. I talked to people, I tried new things, and I tried reconnecting with nature from within.
I reached out to a local community organisation that was offering guided meditation sessions. I had never tried it before but I opened myself to the idea of it, and it had a huge impact. Suddenly it didn’t matter if I was surrounded by the same four walls, in my mind I was out at those lochs and hills, and even back in Wales.
I downloaded a free app that plays recordings of raindrops, rolling waves and wind rushing through trees and played it every night when I went to bed. Now I was drifting off imagining these environments, rather than focussing on the whirlwind that had been work that day.
I challenged myself to take a photo every time I found something that cut through the everyday, something that made me stop and look and appreciate (spoiler alert, it was a lot of wintery sunsets and budding trees). Sometimes I deleted the photo afterwards, sometimes it became the setting for my mediations or I returned there as I was drifting off to sleep.
This all, over time, helped me to reconnect and led me to care more about my surroundings. Not only ‘natural’ ones but community spaces, and my own place within that space. I have in recent months taken to carrying an extra rubbish bag with me on my walks, picking up litter as I go, trying to make a small difference.
So why did I choose to share this during mental health awareness week? Partly to share my experience, something I have learnt is incredibly powerful. But also because mental health awareness is important, but action is vital and should extend beyond the hashtag of the week.
These were, in themselves, quite small actions that I took to try and combat the anxiety that my year-long paranoia had created. Collectively however they gave me more freedom than I had felt in months. I’m not saying you need to do these things, they worked for me but I know they won’t work for everyone, but action in any form is key.
- - -
If you want to find out about local activities in your area you can search our members list for local community groups, and I encourage you to reach out to see what they have on offer.
If you want to take it that step further and volunteer your time supporting litter picks or environmental efforts then get in touch with us. Renfrewshire has some incredible community groups working to improve their natural surroundings, in small teams or as bigger Team Up to Clean Up efforts.