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Blog MHAW 2021: How has the IO community connected with nature this year?

MHAW 2021: How has the IO community connected with nature this year?

This Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked members of the Insight Outreach (IO) community to share their favourite and most memorable experiences of connecting with nature throughout the past year of lockdowns, and how these moments have influenced their mental wellbeing.

Sami, OMS Mentee

I wasn’t really a nature person this time last year. However, since I had just finished year 11 (very abruptly!) I made it my goal to explore where I lived to the max. It started off by going on picnics to local parks with my friends but eventually I ventured to a few landmark places I had never been before, like St Dunstans and Kyoto Gardens which were absolutely stunning (I would never say no to a water feature). Recently, my A-Level art class made us grow and draw bean plants at home to keep us busy when lockdown became extra hard. Even when I thought nature couldn’t infiltrate my home life, it did. And quite successfully too! 

Sami out on her daily walk

I think engaging with nature has taught me that not all down time needs to be productive. I learnt to allow myself peace of mind and appreciate things I never had time to think about. The stark contrast between doing near to nothing for 6 months to being plunged into studies was such a shock that it took a while to figure out if I was even allowed to relax. However, time spent just experiencing the outside is just as helpful for the spirit as any other engagement of the brain. Machines need to be turned off occasionally to work effectively when on.

Nik Cerutti, IO Co-Founder

I spent my Sunday in MHAW at Kew Gardens in West London, catching up with some university friends. I love getting outdoors where I can, particularly somewhere with incredible natural beauty, like Kew!

Nik in Kew Gardens

Joyce Connell, IO Co-Founder

One of my favourite pastimes around this time of year is to tiptoe through a carpet of bluebells on my daily walk. The colours are amazing, especially in sunlight and helps me to relax and enjoy the moment.

Bluebells on Joyce’s daily walk

Jemima Robertson, Marketing and Communications Lead

Before the pandemic, I definitely used to treat going for a walk in nature as a bit of a luxury, an activity that had to be planned, required travel, and took up a big chunk of time (a hassle). However, with the imposition of travel restrictions and curbs on regular activities, leaving the house for a walk around my local neighbourhood became a daily fixture and such a highlight. Being unable to travel very far forced me to rediscover the nature and beautiful green spaces that are on my doorstep and highlighted that getting out in nature didn’t have to be a hassle at all. Now, I can’t imagine not getting out in nature everyday, it has helped me to be more mindful and to switch-off when I need to (it has also been a great opportunity to meet all the local cats!).

Jemima and her furry friend

Richard Lloyd, Board Member

After many years of hectic (and fun!) travel for work, an unexpected joy of the last year of lockdowns has been watching a full year of seasons developing and progressing in one place: from the rejuvenation of Spring, through the abundance of Summer, Autumn’s nostalgic whisper, and the cosy reflections of Winter, before watching new life bud again in Spring. Whenever I have felt overwhelmed, trapped, or suffocated by life in the pandemic, I have gone for a walk or run in whatever nature I can find nearby with friends, family, or alone, and tried to learn something new about the world around me, no matter how small. These wanderings in nature have not yet failed to ground me, reinvigorate me, and give me energy for the challenges I’m facing. Just last weekend, after a particularly stressful work deadline, I went walking and camping in the Cotswolds with a friend (in the rain!) and felt thoroughly refreshed for the following week.

Richard hiking in the Cotswolds

Harriet Crossingham, Social Impact Intern, & Marketing Team Member

I have never been someone who enjoys outdoor exercise, I much prefer the safety of my indoor dance classes, but this past year I have attempted to break out of my comfort zone. In the first lockdown, as my dad was shielding, I often found myself not leaving the house for weeks on end and this had a rather detrimental effect on my mental health. It was actually during my Internship at Insight Outreach last summer that Jem encouraged us to work outdoors as it was lovely weather. From then on, I made sure to get out of the house at least once a day, even if just for 20 minutes and I started to be more productive and feel as if I had a better structure to my day. It’s been said over and over but I hadn’t realised just how much getting some outdoor exercise could help to pull you out of a slump. Now, at university, I love studying outside!

Harriet enjoying the snow in January 2021

Links for further support

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)
0800 58 58 58
Provides listening services, information, and support for anyone who needs to talk, including a web chat.

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)
Produces guidelines on best practice in healthcare.

NHS 111 (England)
Non-emergency medical help and advice for people in England.

NHS 111 (Wales)
111 (Hywel Dda, Powys, Aneurin Bevan and Swansea Bay (including Brigend) Health Boards)
0845 46 47 (all other areas of Wales)
Non-emergency medical help and advice for people living in Wales. The contact number for this service differs depending on which area of Wales you are in.

Information about health problems and treatments, including details of local NHS services in England.

Nightline Association
Lists contact information for helplines and listening services in universities and colleges across the UK.

0800 068 41 41
07860 039967 (text)
Confidential support for under-35s at risk of suicide and others who are concerned about them. Open daily from 9am–midnight.

Relay UK
Provides a talk/type relay service for anyone who has difficulty hearing or being understood when speaking over the phone. The cost of making phone calls through this service depends on your telephone service provider.

Rethink Mental Illness
0300 5000 927
Provides support and information for anyone affected by mental health problems, including local support groups.

116 123 (freephone)
Chris, Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK
PO Box 90 90
Stirling FK8 2SA

Samaritans are open 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk. You can visit some Samaritans branches in person. Samaritans also have a Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123 (7pm–11pm every day).

Offers emotional support and information for anyone affected by mental health problems.

Stay Alive
App with help and resources for people who feel suicidal or are supporting someone else.

0300 330 0630
Listening services, information and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.