Straight from the front line of ‘active’, three male Friends of FINDRA share what being outdoors means to their mental health, and how they motivate themselves to get outdoor and connect with nature.
Spending time in nature is good for us for lots of reasons. “Fresh air and exercise” has long been recommended as a way to feel better, physically and mentally.
Now evidence shows us that the quality of our relationship with nature is part of the reason for its positive impact on our wellbeing. Researchers use the term “connectedness” to describe the ideal relationship.
Why time in nature is good for the soul
Connectedness refers to the way we relate to nature and experience nature. A strong connection with nature means feeling a close relationship or an emotional attachment to our natural surroundings.
There are ways that we can develop our connectedness with nature. Activities that involve the senses can help to develop our connection with the natural world, as can activities where we feel emotions such as compassion, perceive beauty or find meaning in nature.
Ben Clarke – Middle Distance Cross Country Runner
I run at least four times a week – five miles each time with a mixture of endurance and sprints in the local woods and hills where I live and which I am fortunate to be able to access from home. I would say I’m very results driven, always trying to improve my times. In other words, ‘it doesn’t get easier, you just get quicker’! Subconsciously I’m always getting ready for the next race, even if I don’t have any in the diary.
I have been a runner since my school days but I never really explored my potential as a competitive runner when I was younger. It feels good to know that I’m still able to get outdoors and run at 56 and enjoy it. The younger guys I know still want to run with me, and I can match their pace and we have fun. I really value that social aspect.
I love the freedom of running in the outdoors and its a great distraction from work. I’m self employed so there is a lot on my shoulders and I also love running up hills. They’re not for everyone but I enjoy the feeling of pushing myself hard yet knowing, from experience, that I will make it. And then there’s always the ‘feel good” endorphin hit at the top as a reward, as well as the view!
If I see a mountain when I go on holiday, I want to run up it. That will be my target for that week. Just looking at mountains makes me feel energised.
Don Galloway – Cyclist
I’ve been active outdoors all my life but recently it has been my salvation. In 2019 my wife, Cath, died – closely followed by three other family members. Since then pushing myself to be physically active has been so beneficial to my mental health. That benefit comes, I think, from being outside and just moving through space and pushing myself – be it on a beach or in the woods.
Like anyone, I do find it hard to motivate myself sometimes. When I wake up, and there’s an empty space in the bed next to me, and so many other things to do – the shopping, cleaning up, things that Cath and I might have done together before – it’s very easy to procrastinate and occupy myself with chores. But it’s important to do some things for yourself. Just half an hour will do. Get out of bed and go outside. Tell yourself “this time is for me”.
Graham Kelly – Mountain Leader and Trail Running Guide
Cabin fever, it’s a real thing. That deep sense of needing escape, the anxious map gazing and daydreaming. The frantic weather watching trying to see a solid high pressure system match the window of opportunity time wise. For me, mountains have always been the preferred environment. Not solely summits – the glens and high corries hold equal appeal. I’ve never had much talent as a technical climber with running in the wilds being my preferred style but I’m as happy just rambling.
With a logbook (I like taking notes) going back over thirty five years I’ve yet to find a single trip where I returned feeling worse than when I left. Tired, cold & hungry but content at worst but more often returning with a deep sense of being able to deal with the noise of life that we’ve been taught to consider normal (some would even have described as being “civilised” rather than what I might see as “disconnected”).
The outdoors strips away a lot of the veneer that we rely on day to day. We can simply need shelter, water, some food and warmth. I’ve shared hills, bothies and travelled with complete strangers yet never felt lonely and in comparison, felt a crushing loneliness in a room full of people I’ve known for years.
Why does all of above happen? I’ve absolutely no idea and despite being an engineer by trade, I’ve no need to understand it – sometimes, it is just easier to know that it works and enjoy the experience.
I’ve never found motivation to be an issue but the barrier that fear can build can on occasion prevent that first step. Possibly an oversimplification but do things you enjoy and if possible, do them with folks you like. Understand your own limits, build a skill base (confidence is a skill) then consider seeing if previous limits are real or imagined!
About FINDRA’s support of Mental Health Awareness Week 2021
To support Mental Health Awareness Week’s theme of Nature this year, we’re suggesting that we share the joy by each taking one person, who wouldn’t normally do so, into nature for a while. It may be a reluctant teenager, a frazzled parent or just someone who’s out of the habit of being outdoors.
There’s no need to scale a mountain or master mountain biking – just enjoy a few hours together (or more if you like). And if you take a photo while you’re at it, please post on social media using #friendsofFINDRA and #connectwithnature so we can share it and inspire others!
Some useful links of information and support around our mental health
POEM OF THE WEEK
Everyone Sang by Siegfried Sassoon
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on - on - and out of sight.
Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away ... O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
I first discovered this poem on the London Underground when it was featured in Poems on the Underground – an initiative that placed poems in the carriages in the spaces where there would normally be adverts. It was originally written at the end of World War One and refers to soldiers singing. The feeling of freedom and beauty if portrays was the perfect contrast to a stuffy train!
I have a copy of this poem, as it appeared on the Underground, on the wall at home – it’s still as lovely to read as it was when I first saw it.
Read more about the project here.
View all the poems and posters here.
MUSIC OF THE WEEK
Einaudi: Full Moon (arr. Lewin for guitar) performed by Miloš Karadaglić
The most beautiful rendition that really makes you stop in your tracks and relax. Its all the more special because this film was shot in the woods where I walk my dog each day. It’s amazing to see a familiar landscape in such a different light.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Daring Greatly by Dr Brené Brown
It’s not often you can truly describe a book as a ‘life changing read’, but this was for me and feels very appropriate as Mental Health Awareness Week closes!
In Daring Greatly, Dr Brene Brown challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability, and dispels the widely accepted myth that it's a weakness. She argues that, in truth, vulnerability is strength and when we shut ourselves off from vulnerability – from revealing our true selves – we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.
The book is the culmination of 12 years of groundbreaking social research, across every area of our lives including home, relationships, work, and parenting. It is an invitation to be courageous; to show up and let ourselves be seen, even when there are no guarantees.
The TED talk about the book is one of the most viewed ever.