Being Outdoors and Mental Health

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week. And along with the plethora of hastags, you’ll also see a plethora of outdoor organisations bestowing the virtues of getting outdoors for your mental health.

They are right to (scroll down for the but…). There’s a tonne of stats and figures out there proving it. But why bore ourselves with those?

Here’s a great video from British Canoeing showing how just this one sport has a massive range of potential for providing an outlet for people struggling with their mental health issues.

I’ve found being outdoors a massive help to me at times where my delicate brain is struggling. From times of heightened day-to-day stress, to more temporary challenges like dealing with grief, to the full blown assault of a serious bout of OCD. Whether its pulling on my boots and going for a quiet wander, getting on the bike and really getting out of puff (not hard for me on a bike!), or just sitting on Ullswater in my kayak, bobbing along and watching the mountains. Just being outside has helped distract my mind, put things in perspective, and sending me home feeling just that bit better than when I left.

The biggest challenge is sometimes getting out. But do. The days when I’ve struggled most to find the will to get outside, even if for a short walk from home round the park, are the days when I really got the most benefit from it.

But, this isn’t intended to be a ‘mental health and me’ post. So, here’s the but… I mentioned earlier! And for once I really don’t mean this to be cynical!

Sometimes the plug for the Great Outdoors (TM) as an answer to mental heath issues can come across, unintentionally, as though it’s THE answer. Maybe it will be for some. But for many of us, for most of us, it won’t be. It can’t be.

As much as it helps (and I truly believe it does) it doesn’t make the challenges we face with our mental health just go away. As much as being in the fresh air is great medicine (even being in the driving rain perks my soul up), it’s not a cure.

Why raise this? Because I think sometimes we forget how much people who are struggling feel pressure to ‘get better’. Most of us, idiots aside, now recognise that ‘just pull your socks up’ is a counter-productive, and wrong, message for people with mental health issues. But sometimes, even if it isn’t the intention, a focus on ‘just getting out there’ can come across in a very similar fashion.

So the point of this post is just a plea to anyone who is struggling to always remember. You are not a failure if being outdoors doesn’t help. You haven’t let yourself down if you couldn’t get out of the house. No-one expects you to recover after a spin round the block on your bike. We all do need help and support from other sources too.

I hope the tweets, Facebook posts and more from outdoor organisations do help get more people outside and finding the powerful benefits of both physical activity and the natural environment. But I hope even more that you can get all the help and support and help you need from the system and from those around it. My twitter, and I’m sure that of a great many other people in the outdoor community, will always have an open door to you, should you ever need any extra ears (or extra boots).

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