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World Health Day: the connection between our planet and our health

April 7, 2022

On World Health Day – which is today, 7th April - the World Health Organisation (WHO) focuses on a topic that affects the health of people all over the globe. This year’s theme is Our planet, our health, which has been chosen by WHO to highlight the urgent actions needed to keep humans and the planet healthy, and foster a movement to create societies that are focused on wellbeing. 


The relationship between the environment we live in and our mental health has long been recognised as important. The positive impact the natural world can have on how we feel was emphasised during the pandemic, when many of us found that spending time outdoors was key for our wellbeing. In a survey run by the Mental Health Foundation, nearly half (45%) of people in the UK said that visiting green spaces, such as parks, helped them to cope.


According to the Foundation, finding and developing a connection with nature is associated with lower depression and anxiety levels, while people who are more connected with nature are usually happier and more likely to feel their lives are worthwhile. Meanwhile, mental health charity Mind refers on its website to research that has been done into ecotherapy – a type of treatment for mild to moderate depression which involves doing activities outside in nature.


When we look at the efforts that are needed to achieve WHO’s aims, it’s easy to feel powerless, and imagine there’s nothing much we as individuals can do. But there are actions we can take to become more involved and engaged with the natural environment around us, both for our own benefit and to improve it for others.


Use all of your senses to experience nature. Noticing the details can help to ground us in the moment, fully appreciate what’s around us, and get us out of our own heads if we’re feeling low or anxious. What can you smell? See? Hear? Stop and really listen to it. What has changed since you were last there? What does the sun – or drizzle! – feel like on your face?


Take part in activities that improve your local environment. This could be campaigning to save a green space near you, throwing some wildflower seeds onto a roadside verge, or joining a litter pick, for example. Making a difference to our surroundings can be really fulfilling, and make us feel closer to our communities.


Contribute to the bigger picture. Getting involved with wider conservation or environmental activities can give us a sense of perspective, as well as helping us to feel we’re having a positive impact on a key issue. Mind has some information on helping the environment, and suggests having a look at The Wildlife Trusts, Groundwork and The Conservation Volunteers websites for opportunities to get going.


Grow something green! Nurturing plants can bring a sense of achievement, and shift our focus away from what’s going on in our minds. If you don’t have a garden, you could plant flowers and vegetables in window boxes or in pots on a balcony, grow herbs on windowsills, or adopt some houseplants. There might also be opportunities to get involved in a group initiative – for instance a community garden in a nearby allotment patch, or your local Britain in Bloom project.


Take exercise outdoors. Spending even a short amount of time outside has been shown to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Exercising in fresh air and natural light can clear the mind, and make us feel more relaxed. It also helps to get our bodies in tune with natural cycles and rhythms, which can improve our sleep as well as making us feel more connected with the world around us.


Why not try some Forest Bathing? This is a Japanese relaxation practice that involves being calm and quiet amongst the trees, observing nature and breathing deeply to de-stress and boost wellbeing.


Feed the birds! Many people find spending time with animals relaxing and enjoyable. Websites which featured wildlife webcams saw hits increase by over2,000% during the pandemic, according to the Mental Health Foundation. For those of us with a garden, putting out bird feeders, or introducing a hedgehog house or bird nesting box could attract wildlife into our environment.


You can find out more about this year’s World Health Day here. If you’re really struggling with anxiety or low mood, and being in nature isn’t calming your negative thoughts, then online CBT may be a good option. Find about more about what CBT can do to help here.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
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