I’m generally a fairly upbeat person but there are times when work and life make me feel stressed, insignificant or low. I have suffered a long period of depression in my early 40s and the menopause has negatively affected my confidence at times, too.
I know it’s the same for many people and according to the charity Mind, around a quarter of people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.
Research by the Mental Health Foundation also found that almost three-quarters (74%) of people have at some point felt stressed due to being overwhelmed or unable to cope.
For some of us, these difficulties may come and go, and for others, they may be more long-lasting.
For me, spending time outdoors, surrounded by nature, is the best way to boost my mood.
There are multiple studies – for example, the relationship between greenspace and the mental wellbeing of adults and the health benefits of the great outdoors – that show a link between access to green space, such as fields, forests, parks and gardens, and a reduced risk of mental health problems, improved mood and increased life satisfaction.
Other benefits include reduced stress, increased physical activity and better physical health.
Winfields Outdoors Walk & Talk campaign
I am collaborating with the Winfields Outdoors Walk & Talk campaign to encourage more people to talk openly about mental health.
Winfields Outdoors wants to add to the conversation around mental health and highlight the fact that it is important to help people to realise they are not alone – and that there are ways to get help.
The Winfields Outdoors Walk & Talk campaign aims to contribute to the wider conversation around mental health and to encourage more people to use what nature has provided as one method of getting back to a positive headspace.
Outdoors tips for better mental health
Here I reveal some of the ways that the great outdoors is good for my mental health. I hope that some of this will resonate with you and, if you are affected by mental health issues, you might be able to tap into the benefits of spending more time outdoors.
Fresh air and light
It might seem obvious, but simply getting outdoors away from indoor and stuffy air, plus a shaded room, can be enough to boost my mood. I spend a lot of my work time at my laptop and this is usually indoors, so the simple act of walking outdoors can be a huge benefit.
When I am bogged down with too much work or struggling to find inspiration or motivation, a short walk in local woodland or, better still, a run on the trails is usually enough to lift my mood.
Plenty of research shows that spending time outdoors, in daylight and amid nature, can be a great mood enhancer and I experience this daily. I have often cited the study by the University of Glasgow that found that regular exercise in natural environments halves the risk of poor mental health.
It’s not always easy to motivate myself to head out for a run, but I rarely regret it. After the initial feeling of “can I really be bothered?”, it is usually only about 10 minutes before I get a burst of “oh, yes, this is exactly what I needed”. This probably coincides with me reaching the top of the first hill on my favourite running route from my house!
If I have not been feeling up for a run, I let myself simply run according to how I’m feeling. If all I feel like is a jog-walk, then that’s what I do. If I start to get a boost of energy, I’ll then be more likely to run a bit harder. But the key, when I need a mental health boost, is to simply go out and enjoy the activity.
I very rarely return from a run without having an endorphin rush.
I often spend time outdoors with friends whether it’s a run, walk, swim or kayak. In fact, making a date to go for a walk or run with a friend often motivates me to meet up and get outdoors.
Being immersed in the activity allows me to switch off from my busy life and get away from my computer and phone. With only the activity and views to focus on, this is when I most enjoy talking.
I find it easy to chat with my friends while taking part in an outdoor activity. Some experts suggest that because you are side-by-side with another person, rather than facing them and needing to make eye contact, it can be easier to open up about feelings. I am not sure if this is the case for me, but I do know that I enjoy chatting while doing outdoor activities.
These are the times when I go over issues that might be bothering me and listen to what my friends are saying about their lives.
This is why I like the Walk & Talk campaign by Winfields Outdoors, which aims to encourage more people to benefit from being outdoors.
Being fully immersed in the outdoors environment, whether I am walking a remote mountain, running a quiet trail without seeing another person or swimming in a peaceful loch, is when I experience the greatest mental health advantages.
Many people talk about the benefits of being present in a situation or of mindfulness and I think that when I am truly away from everyday life and surrounded by the great beauty of Scotland’s scenery, I get this sense of mindfulness.
I have talked many times with like-minded outdoor swimming friends about the “whoop” that I feel whenever I take a dip in a cold water loch or the sea. Wild swimming is relatively new for me and until recently I had no idea how suddenly amazing it can make me feel. I think it’s partly that I am fully immersed in cold water, which gives me a mental buzz. After an outdoor swim or dip, I feel so much more “up” for the rest of the day.
Taking my time
There are days when I want to run as fast as I can or pedal my bike at higher speeds, simply to get somewhere quickly or to try to improve my physical ability and performance.
Equally, there are days when a slower outing is required. It could be a long walk along a glen, a necessarily slower hike up a steep mountain, a gentle paddle in my kayak or an easy swim in our local loch.
I believe that taking my time to really see and feel what is around me is more beneficial to my mental health.
Although, I should say, that being able to run faster also gives me a confidence and esteem booster, so it is a balance of speed and time spent outdoors.
Remembering how lucky I am
I live in the Scottish Highlands and there is a superb outdoors playground on my doorstep. I like to remind myself – sometimes I say it out loud to myself! – just how lucky I am to have easy access to all kinds of outdoor activities.
Most people can seek out green places, even in the heart of a city or town, and it’s the natural environment that is key to improved mental health. If you feel surrounded by urban structures, try to find a quiet place, even just hug a tree or sit on a bench overlooking a park pond, and feel how the connection with nature gives you a moment of peace and mindfulness.
I remember when I suffered with a couple of years of depression and someone observed that my blog suggested I was totally fine. Behind the scenes, I really wasn’t feeling good. However, it helps for me to write about upbeat experiences in the great outdoors.
When I was out in the hills and mountains I could forget about my daily woes and low self-esteem. When I wrote about these adventures I could still feel a heightened sense of being and worth.
My outdoors life was a huge part of my road to improved mental health (although I did take anti-depressant medication for a year or so, too.)
Useful mental health contacts
It is not always easy “just” to help yourself. Here are some useful contacts.
Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They have a phone, email and even a text service. See below for how you can get in touch with them.
Tel: 116 123
The mental health charity, Mind, provides advice and support to anyone experiencing mental health problems. Their helplines are open 9 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday.
Tel: 0300 123 3393 and text: 86463.
CALM offers support to men of any age who are feeling down or in crisis, as well as offering support to those bereaved by suicide. 5 pm to midnight, 365 days a year. Tel: