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3 ways going outside will improve your mental health

This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW), which aims to help raise awareness and provide an opportunity to talk openly about all aspects of mental health and well-being. The theme for this year is  “nature” and individuals are encouraged to make time this week to get outside, meet friends or family (where possible) and share stories of how connecting with nature etc has helped their well-being.

The COVID-19 lockdown has had a significant impact on staff and student’s mental health and well-being over the past year with transitioning to online learning, changes in accommodation and lack of social interaction. However, research has shown that connecting with nature during stressful events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, can buffer against stress and increase well-being.

I am currently a third-year Psychology student at the University and found getting outside for a daily walk really helped to regain some control and build a routine amongst the uncertainty of COVID-19 and university assignments this semester. However, getting outside is often not as easy as it sounds depending on where you live, your daily schedule or current mental and physical health. Therefore, here are some tips, adapted from the Mental Health Foundation website, which could help you to get outside and connect with nature this week (and throughout the year):

1. Find small ways to incorporate nature in your day

If you live away from nature e.g., gardens, parks or coastal areas finding ways to bring the outdoors nearer to you, through incidental or indirect contact, could help improve well-being. Whether that is changing your commute to university or work to explore new places, buying a small pot plant (my personal lockdown project) or offering to help a friend or relative outside – finding whatever works for you.

2. Schedule time outside with friends and family

It can feel really daunting getting outside but meeting a course mate or work colleague in a familiar environment can be a great way to build confidence and resilience. Try not to put pressure on yourself during this time though – even a couple of minutes in a different environment can make such a difference.

3. Try exercising outside!

As the lockdown restrictions are easing, there are more opportunities to exercise outside if you feel able to do so. This could be starting a Couch to 5k app, cycling around your local area or meeting a friend or family member for a walk. In addition, exercising without headphones could be a great way to feel more connected to nature and your thoughts.

I hope these strategies help and you are able to incorporate nature in some form during the week!

Find out more information about mental health awareness week.

Lizzie Vass, 3rd year Psychology student and University of Chichester mental health ambassador

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