This week marks the start of Mental Health Awareness week but to be honest, we think everyday should include mental health awareness- it is with us all the time and is incredibly important. However, we’re not going to discourage the incredible opportunity that comes with Mental Health Awareness week to raise awareness that mental health is an important issue, and should be taken more seriously and understood better on so many levels.
However, when it comes to you and your individual mental health, this week can certainly feel like a barrage of information and resources. It can feel quite overwhelming and it can certainly feel like you’re not doing it right. So we just want to take a second to try and remind you to see this as your own individual process and there is no right or wrong way to be. Take on board what works for you (or at least explore with it) and leave the rest. Your mental health is an individual process and it does take time and discovery to find what works- and can also differ from time to time based on certain needs.
So as you will most likely know if you’re a regular reader of This Expansive Adventure just how important mental health is to a lot of what we do and underpins so much of our strategies and work. We’ve been talking about the benefits of nature connection for a whole range of reasons for the entirety of our time within our cause, but nature connection for our mental health is one of the driving forces for us even getting into the outdoors in the first place. Of course, getting out into nature should never replace specific psychological recommendations, but being out in nature can help us for a whole range of complimentary reasons. It can help us relax, it can help us to shift our perspectives, it can take our mind off things so that we can get out of the issue and move toward a solution and it can also help us to practise mindfulness. We’re fairly sure that if you’re reading this, you will likely have experienced some of the benefits of time spent out in nature, whether you realise it or not.
We have a lot of resources already available on specific mental health wellbeing, so for Mental Health Awareness Week this year, we’ve decided to provide a number of quick read style pieces that work as starting and thinking points. Some of these can be seen as emergency measures, whilst others could be seen as ways you could implement into your life as complimentary actions or thought processes.
Today, we’ve decided to work around the idea of realism and nature connection, so what do we mean by this? If you’re like us and realise that your connection to nature is incredibly important for your mental health, it can actually start to feel quite stressful when you know you can’t get out, in whatever way works for you. Things in life get in the way- it could be a busy week with no reprise. It could be an accessibility issue. It could be down to being ill. We’ve had so many times in our nature based mindfulness practise where we’ve actually felt bad that we haven’t been able to get out for a long hike. But sometimes, actually getting out can be an act of not listening to where you’re at. So how do we still focus on our self care in nature when we’re not able to do the activity we’re used to that helps our mental health?
When we are unable to get out, or if we are experiencing anxiety, a technique we’ve found works incredibly well is to focus on sensory grounding techniques. As much as stopping for a long break when you’re dealing with anxiety can be incredibly helpful, it isn’t always possible. So sometimes we need techniques that can work fast. When feeling like this, a shift in perspective or thinking can be helpful. Generally when we’re stuck in a worry it can feel all engulfing so being able to develop techniques that pull us out to look at things from an elevated perspective can really help to get you out of the grips of whatever you’re experiencing. In an ideal situation, this is where going for a much needed dose of nature comes in. But we can’t realistically say that this is going to be possible on each and every day.
Our seven step, quick sensory grounding technique
This technique can be done anywhere, at any time of the day and for as little or as long as you have space for. But we’d recommend at least 5 minutes to start. Each of these emergents focuses on your senses, if a particular sense isn’t available to you, this exercise still works extremely well. You could look to focus on a number of other factors that work for you within this. The important thing is to find what works for your individual needs and this can be adapted to suit.
- Sit somewhere you can focus for a few minutes. That can be outside, looking through a window or something similar. Generally, it’s best if you can either be or be looking outside at the wider world around you.
- If it’s available to you, close your eyes. This is not essential (we find this helpful to allow us to focus). Focus on your breathing, but more specifically slowing this down. Try to count as you breathe in and count as you breathe out. Counting up to 3 on your inhale and 3 on your exhale. Try to steady and get your breathing into a slow rhythm. As you do this, notice any muscles that feel tense and try to soften them with your breathing.
- Once you’ve calmed your breathing, open your eyes/look out at what is around you, if seeing is available to you. Name to yourself five things that you can see. This could be anything, but really take notice of how each thing looks before you move into the next.
- Once you’ve finished above, start to notice the things you can hear around you, if this is available to you. That could be things competing to be the loudest, it could be little things. Try to find three things you can hear and really focus on each one.
- Next up, start touching the things around you, if this is available to you. If you’re outside it could be grass. It’s inside, it could be your clothes or the furniture around you. Find five things you can feel and start to really focus on how each texture feels. You don’t need to name the textures, just be aware of them and how they feel.
- Start to become aware of your sense of smell, if this is available to you. Try to focus on two things that you can smell. This could be anything around you or something about you. Really focus on how it feels and how the smells make you feel.
- Lastly, take a few final deep breaths in and and out.