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The great outdoors and the benefits to your mental health

Storms upon us, winter raging and the Christmas countdown on, the temptation can be strong, indeed:  to batten down the hatches; to hibernate and hide away; to spend the festive season inside.

The weather outside is frightful? Let it snow…

Close the curtains, turn up the fire and turn on the TV. Social media forever at our fingertips and everything we need online, there’s no need to head outdoors this December. 

Or is there?

‘Although many of us feel like hibernating in winter, getting outside in green spaces and making the most of the little daylight that we get can really benefit both your physical and mental health,’ Stephen Buckley, from Mind, the mental health charity, told The Guardian a little earlier this week. 

This is an opinion we’re keen to endorse this Christmas.

Make no mistake. Snuggling up indoors, the curtains drawn, and the log burner lit, enjoying a Christmas film with the family, this is one of the great pleasures of the festive season.

Yet so prevalent is digital technology, there’s a danger we become ever more detached from all that is happening beyond our four walls.

Gadgets are guaranteed to top Christmas lists once again, and we do understand their appeal. 

But there has to be balance – a fact underlined this week.

The aforementioned article outlined a report from Forest Research detailing the benefits that spending time outdoors can have on health both physical and mental.

In particular – understandable, given the source – the focus was on woodland walks and their positive impact on wellbeing.

‘If people spend 30 minutes a week in trees, doing whatever they like – walking, sitting, meditating – there are noticeable benefits,’ Vadim Saraev, from Forest Research, told The Guardian. ‘It’s amazing how small that is in terms of time. You will feel much better than if you spent the 30 minutes looking at social media.’

Think about that for a moment. That half-an-hour spent doomscrolling. That time wasted on Twitter, or frittered away on Facebook. 

Did the experience make you feel better? Positive? Fulfilled? 

Sometimes, perhaps. 

But our view, like Vadim’s, is that such time could be spent better outdoors.

‘Whenever you walk through woods, it’s always different,’ he added. ‘It feels fresher there, the air is less polluted. In that moment, if you pay attention, you will notice the rustling of leaves, the interesting musty smells of wet earth and wood.’ 

Paying attention. Being aware. Living in the moment. Things that are often lost indoors and online. The cost should not be underestimated.

Forest Research reckon ‘walks taken in UK woodlands save £185m a year in mental health costs’, taking such things as GP visits, prescriptions, hospital and social care, and time off work into account.

The figures are hard to dispute, although our focus is not so much on the financial.

Spending time unplugged and outdoors, whether in the woods or the park or on the beach, does make us feel better. Nature, as the Guardian article notes, ‘is known to boost mental health’. Having spent so long locked down, consigned to spending time inside during the pandemic’s darkest days, our appreciation for the outdoors has never been greater.

Reading another report this week, this one emanating from the World Economic Forum, we were interested to note evidence from the United States that ‘the restrictions on time in outdoor parks at the beginning of the pandemic took a toll on young people’s mental wellbeing’, and that as time spent outdoors decreased, ‘their connection to nature decreased as well.’

This might all sound rather obvious, and indeed, to a certain extent it is.

Yet it’s also something that is important to underline, as the weather begins to worsen and the temptation to eschew all that is outdoors increases in the coming days and weeks. 

The weather outside is frightful? Let it snow, snuggle up indoors, light the fire, close the curtains and savour that film with the family. 

Just don’t spend the whole festive season inside and online. 

Don’t hibernate and hide away.

Please get outside in those green spaces and make the most of the little daylight that comes our way… 

Be aware, benefit, go outdoors and enjoy.

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