As the longest day of the year hits, Anxiety UK wanted to highlight our team go-to anxiety relief technique – getting outdoors! Most will agree that a day spent in the fresh air does wonders. This could be a hike in the hills, a swim in a lake, a run in a park, or simply a gentle walk around your neighbourhood. Spending time in nature has been proven to have a positive impact on our mental health.
We know that physical exercise reduces anxiety levels by serving as a distraction from anxious thoughts, decreasing muscle tension and clearing stress hormones in the body (Harvard Health, 2019). It also helps regulate breathing; think of the rhythmic breathing required for cardiovascular exercise such as running or swimming. Regulating breathing activates our parasympathetic nervous system which lets your body know that you are safe, and that a stress response is not needed. You can read more about “The Power of Exercise for Anxiety” in our blog here: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/blog/the-power-of-exercise-for-anxiety/.
As the days are so long at this time of year, we are encouraging others to venture outside as it’s not just the physical exercise that helps, but also the connection with nature.
Earlier this year, Anxiety UK hosted a webinar from researchers working on the benefits of spending time in forests. The team highlighted that from their investigation, taking in the forest atmosphere, has been found to be beneficial in the alleviation of anxiety and stress. In their analysis they were able to actually assign monetary value to the benefits of spending time in woodlands for mental health. “The annual mental health benefits associated with visits to the UK’s woodlands are estimated to be £185 million.” (Forest Research, 2021). This takes into account the cost of mental health treatment, including visits to GPs, drug prescriptions, inpatient care and social services. You can read the full Forrest Research report here: https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/publications/valuing-the-mental-health-benefits-of-woodlands/
We have also been in contact with researchers working with Blue Health; a European project looking into how water-based environments in towns and cities are related to health and wellbeing. Examples of the “blue spaces” they were studying included areas that prominently feature water such as lakes, rivers, canals, coasts and even water features. According to their research “Those who visited blue space at least once a week were 1.7 x as likely to also report high wellbeing compared to those who never visited”. You can read the full Blue Spaces report here: https://bluehealth2020.eu/resources/bluebenefits/
A message from the Anxiety UK Team
We love spending time in nature because it makes us feel good. It’s great to know the evidence behind the ‘feel good factor of nature’, however sometimes it’s simply a case of feeling the benefits directly for yourself. As the days are longer, a gentle evening jog does wonders for clearing the mind – especially on those lovely sunny days. The Anxiety UK staff team try to take short breaks to head outdoors in the working day as just a 20 minute walk on your lunch break can be very refreshing and help provide focus for the afternoon.
It doesn’t have to be a strenuous walk that you undertake as simply viewing the natural surroundings around you, provides benefits. You could even try some photography or sketching whilst you are outdoors as creative activities such as these are quite mindful and therefore great at bringing about a sense of peace. Over the next few weeks, the Anxiety UK team will be taking part in a local canal clean up event to contribute to our local community and looking after the environment whilst also being good for our wellbeing.