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Mental Health Awareness Week: how ACEVO members connect with nature

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year’s theme is nature. We asked ACEVO members to share their experiences of connecting with nature in the past year and how this connection has helped them navigate the pandemic.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

Nicci Russell, managing director, Waterwise

I found lockdown really hard because I was shielding, lost my Dad and also had some bad health news of my own. After lockdown 1 I discovered endless beautiful country walks across fields, which I could walk to from my front door – and the fresh air, peace and beauty of nature really stilled my soul. At the end of lockdown 3, I was so looking forward to my walks again and I will do them forever now! One last thing-  one of the techniques I used to get me through an MRI, with severe claustrophobia, was visualising our favourite lockdown walk, field by field, over and over again. Nature has totally saved my mental health during lockdown!

Helen Moulinos, chief executive, POhWER

Having lived in large cities my entire life, connecting with nature is an essential part of keeping my mental health well. I grew up on an island and have a great love of swimming in the ocean. I took up Yoga 20 years ago to help me clear my head and have wonderful memories of practicing on a mat in South India surrounded by wild Kingfishers and butterflies landing on my mat.  Here in the UK, long-distance walking is my preferred way to surround myself with beauty through the sights and sounds of the glorious British countryside.  

Gill Perkins, chief executive, Bumblebee Conservation Trust

As a child I was immersed in nature by my dad, it has always helped to restore my soul, to give me balance and perspective. Walking in wild places allows me to be rejuvenated, taking in the views and absorbing the peace I can feel whole and unburdened. In busy, noisy places I sit and focus on the small things, a beetle, the leaves unfurling, a birds song, a bumblebee it takes my mind away from the stresses and strains of the day, it makes me appreciate what I do have, all of the five senses, not everyone is so lucky.

Anna Walsh, chief executive, CHADD

I walk my dog daily and although we don’t go far as she is old and our pace of walking is slow, it has been a real boost to my sense of wellbeing to have time to look around me. I have felt comforted seeing the seasons of nature.  It’s been a good reminder of the natural order of change, that not everything lasts forever, and there is a purpose for the season we are in. Definitely helped me connect with joy in the small things and given me hope that whatever rubbish emotions I may feel that day/week, a new season isn’t too far away.

Cherrie Bija, chief executive, Faith in Families

I am incredibly privileged to live near the finest coastline, whilst I have never taken it for granted – during Covid it has been my haven.  A place where I have watched the sun rise and set, with the peace of the waves, the wind, the rain and the warmth, nature at its best.  No matter what weather I have grabbed the dogs and headed out at sunrise.  Most days dipping into the sea to set my equilibrium. It has prepared me to make the challenging and chaotic decisions that had to be taken during the pandemic. It enabled me to breath during the terminal illness and death of my mother and it has helped me to carry on doing the best I can – being kind to myself first – enabling me to lead my team to be kind to themselves too. This is one habit I shall continue.

Cassandra Harrison, chief executive, Youth Access

I am a keen scuba diver and this last year, without travel, I have been connecting with the UK’s underwater natural world more than in the past. From the playful Farne Island seals to the surprisingly beautiful seaweed of the Dorset coast (via some less pretty quarries and lakes!), I get a huge benefit to my wellbeing from being out in nature and in a different environment. It is completely absorbing, which I am sure is a key factor in why I always feel relaxed and smiling afterwards.

Euan Hall, chief executive, The Land Trust

Over the last 12 months getting outdoors has had a hugely positive impact on my physical and mental wellbeing. It has provided a real escape from the challenges we have all had to face and personally I immediately find myself relaxing as soon as I get in the great outdoors. When I am outside, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of nature, I am not thinking about work or anything else that might be on my mind. I am just present in the environment. Although I enjoy going for long walks I’ve really noticed the benefits that spending even just a short amount of time outside can bring.

Anita Kerwin-Nye, executive director, YHA

Connecting children to nature is a large part of my day job but over the last year it has been essential for me personally too. Keeping chickens, working the allotment, planting seeds and stargazing have all been an essential part of managing well-being and keeping PTSD at bay.  In part a reminder that life goes on and good things come back – there is nothing like seeing green shoots or a baby chick. But also in a year dominated by digital and fast paced decisions I have found that stepping into nature – hands in soil and a focus on the real not virtual – has helped prevent burnout. So as part of this over months ahead I am looking at how we can build the principles of the Slow Movement into our working practices. And nature has connected me to more people too. A call out for plant cuttings led to new relationships and delivering eggs has developed links with neighbours – part of the new local that will be so important post Covid. So more connections to nature. More protecting nature. And more access to nature for all.

Katy Amberley, chief executive, The British Society for Haematology

The Squirrel

What do you make of me, my sciurine friend?

I am that middle-aged woman, in kooky clothes, who feeds you nuts and stands there grinning at you as though expecting you to thank me.  Who analyses your gestures, trying to interpret them as communications with me.

I anthropomorphise you endlessly on my lockdown walks, in an effort to make up for the lack of human interaction during this strange time. It is safer for me to get close to you than it is to another human being right now.  So I talk to you and try not to worry about being “that mad squirrel-woman” to my fellow-bipeds.

Sometimes you turn up your little nose at a walnut and will only take hazelnuts.  I wonder to myself as I look at you folding one forepaw over your chest – what does that mean?  It looks like “do you mean ME?”

When you stand on your hind legs and look around, and then take another short run or leap towards me, I suppose you are checking the coast is clear.  I marvel at your cunning when you feint, dodge in another direction, taking the pigeons away from me and then dart back towards me to collect the nut, before they know what has happened. You make me laugh when you miss a nut and a pigeon snaffles it instead, but I also feel sorry for you.  You are clearly pleased that I am feeding you; you come bounding up to me when I arrive at the square gardens. You recognise me; how clever that is as I don’t wear the same clothes on each visit. 

There is something reassuring about you going about your business, as your kind have done for generations, unaffected by pandemics and the questions and worries they raise for humans. 

Yet I know you are not my friend and you don’t care about me. But it comforts me to see you and I always feel happier for having spent time with you and am disappointed when you don’t materialise and I go home with all those nuts in my pocket. 

Picture of a squirrel holding a nut
Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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