Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

Hello! I’m Zoe, a Sustainability Project Assistant, and I’m here to talk about Mental Health Awareness Week.

The theme for 2021 is ‘Nature’ as interacting with the natural world can be beneficial to both your physical and mental health.

Good health and wellbeing is goal number three of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as promoting physical, mental and social wellbeing ensures all individuals and communities have the opportunity to lead healthy and happy lives.

Over the past year, thousands of people have reconnected with nature and experienced first-hand the benefits that being outdoors can have on our wellbeing – I know I’ve walked more in the past year than ever before!

To help raise awareness and get you involved, I’ve put together some activities for you to try out using the Five ways to wellbeing;

  • Connect
  • Be active
  • Learn
  • Give to others
  • Take notice.

This might be on campus, at home or anywhere else you feel comfortable enjoying nature.

As lockdown restrictions have eased slightly, you can try all the suggested activities with a friend if you feel comfortable but, please make sure you remember to always follow COVID-19 guidelines and be respectful of your local environment.

That way, everyone can experience the positive impacts of nature and feel safe at the same time.

 

Connect

Social relationships can ensure we feel valued and supported throughout our daily life. It’s also important to feel connected to the natural world through interacting with the environment.

  • Reach out to see how your friends and family are, they might need some support too. You could ask what their relationship with nature is like or meet for a walk. It’s always nice to have a cuppa whether that’s in your garden or over video call.
  • Plant some seeds! Order your free pack of bee-saving seeds (packaging and delivery costs 75p) online which have over 30 different types of wildflower. Check out Grow Wild for information on how to grow them.
  • Take the time to water your indoor and outdoor plants or find a nearby garden that you can visit using Ordnance Survey’s online map.
  • Keep an eye on our Peregrines from the comfort of your own bed using our live webcam!

 

Be active

It doesn’t need to be intense but regular physical activity can benefit mental health in different ways including helping with depression and anxiety, slowing age-related cognitive decline and promoting general wellbeing and fitness.

 

Learn

Engaging in educational activities can; focus your mind, enhance self-esteem and encourage social interaction. To help you learn something new today, I’m going to tell you a bit about eco-anxiety and how it can impact people’s relationships with nature.

To me, eco-anxiety is when someone experiences feelings of stress, worry, panic or grief when thinking about the climate crisis, but it’s important to understand that everyone experiences eco-anxiety differently and on varying scales.

Unfortunately, this means that not all relationships with nature are entirely positive. It’s okay to be overwhelmed and feel powerless over climate change, we just have to remember that we’re all in this together.

On a personal level, working in sustainability means I am confronted by issues of climate, social, economic and cultural justice on a daily basis which can be emotionally challenging. In a weird contradiction, nature can provide relief from these feelings through walking, running and being outdoors.

There are lots of uncertainties when it comes to the future so it’s important to develop techniques and resilience that allow you to manage any negative thoughts and feelings around the climate crisis. Even the University incorporates resilience as a key aspect throughout their projects, particularly as part of developing the Climate Plan.

If you would like to learn more about eco-anxiety, climate resilience and how to cope if you’re experiencing similar feelings, email Ian Shaw, I.Shaw@leeds.ac.uk, or check out these resources:

 

Give to others

Being kind and giving to those around you can give you a rewarding feeling whilst boosting positivity and self-worth. Anything from giving your bee-saving seeds to a neighbour, to volunteering in your local community can lift your mood and give you a sense of purpose.

  • Join our dedicated sustainability volunteering Facebook group or mailing list to stay up-to-date with opportunities. We are currently developing volunteering projects as part of our Student Citizenship programme of work so keep a look out and, in the meantime, you can join the newly formed litter picking group who are looking after Woodhouse Moor. Email sustainability@leeds.ac.uk if you’d like to be involved.
  • Check out the Sustainability Service’s Get involved pages or the Leeds Volunteering Hub on MyCareer for more opportunities across the University.

 

Take notice

Doing mindfulness exercises in greenspaces (or eco-mindfulness) is a low-cost, accessible way to bring you back to the present moment whilst lowering stress and fostering empathy for animals and plants.

Find a quiet space outdoors where you can remain still for 20-30 minutes and try to exercise your senses.

  • What can you hear? Listen out for flowing water, rustling trees, wind blowing, animals and wildlife such as birds singing, human behaviour like traffic and talking.
  • What can you feel? Scan your body for external pressures, feel any elements on skin such as wind and rain, become aware of your breathing.
  • What can you smell? Separate out the different aromas – a herb garden is great for this!
  • What can you see? Count the wildlife around you, look at the shapes of natural things like trees as well as the spaces between them, follow any shadows as they move with the sun, watch the surface of water ripple, pick out shapes as the clouds move.

Mindfulness is a great way to connect with others too so try it with a friend or organise a group mindfulness session in your local park.

The Sensory Garden at Charles Morris Hall is a great place to start and there is currently a Sustainability Garden group working on creating an accessible mindfulness space on campus so keep a look out for exciting updates!

Check out how you can get involved in events throughout the week across the rest of the University

Support services and resources

If you feel like you’re struggling, please reach out whether that’s through using the University’s staff and student support services, talking to someone you’re close to, or using online resources such as Mind or Student Space.

The Mental Health Foundation have created Thriving with Nature, a guide for everyone to make the most of natural spaces for the benefit of your mental health and wellbeing.

 

Keep up to date on the latest news

 

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

We use the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework to guide our activity. Our work on health and wellbeing is linked to the following SDGs:

      • Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing
      • Goal 4: Quality Education
      • Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
      • Goal 15: Life on Land

 

Find out more about our impact on the SDGs.