Connecting with nature for better mental health in property
Although restrictions across the UK are gradually lifting and there’s a little more optimism in the air, this is the second Mental Health Awareness Week we’ve spent under semi-lockdown - governed by rules and regulations that would have been simply unfathomable 18 months ago.
It’s no surprise that this period has taken a real mental toll on people – even those who have never had any reason to worry about or think about their mental health previously – living, as we have, with uncertainty, a certain amount of fear and anxiety, and isolated from loved ones and many of the things we may usually rely on to support wellbeing.
The theme of this year’s MHAW is Connect with Nature and it has probably never been more important in people’s lives. Given everything else that has been ‘taken away’ from us, more and more of us have come to appreciate spending time outdoors; in fact, a recent study by the Mental Health Foundation found that getting out for a walk had been the main way of coping with the stress of the pandemic for some 60% of us.
‘Ecotherapy’, or outdoor activity such as conservation, gardening, farming or exercise have all been shown to benefit people’s mental health – even, for some, a possible alternative to medication or other therapies – with academics also suggesting people living in close proximity to green space enjoy significantly better mental health.
Personally, I’ve always loved to be outside, whether walking, running, cycling or gardening, and working closely with LionHeart’s volunteer mental health ambassadors – all practising surveyors with lived experience of mental health challenges – I’m always struck by how many of them say that being outdoors for exercise or leisure has helped them stay mentally healthy and manage long-standing conditions including anxiety and depression.
As we move forward into our new ‘normal’ it seems that some of the changes we have experienced over the past 15 months or so might be with us for the long term. As more businesses and organisations embrace the idea of flexible working, some lockdown habits such as walking more and enjoying local green spaces might be here to stay.
In recent years there has been a definite increase in the number of businesses and organisations recognising the moral (and economic and business!) reasons for supporting their workforce to have better mental health.
At LionHeart, we have tried hard to acknowledge the link between physical and mental wellbeing; in the ‘old days’, fostering a lunchtime walking/running group, providing laminated maps of walking routes round the pockets of green space to be found in the city centre, for example. In this past work-from-home year, we’ve had Zoom-style yoga type sessions and encouraged staff, within the guidelines, to meet for walks – ‘gifting’ employees a couple of hours to facilitate this.
As we cautiously begin our return to cities and offices, wouldn’t it be great if more employers could build the ‘Connect with Nature’ ethos into the workplaces of the future, to better support staff wellbeing and reduce stress?
Jo Grant is wellbeing project development lead for LionHeart, the charity that supports RICS professionals. After beginning her career in community physical activity development, where she developed an interest in the relationship between physical and mental health, she moved to LionHeart in 2016 to launch the charity’s mental health project, the John O’Halloran Initiative, whose main aim was to promote better mental health and wellbeing in the property sector.
- LionHeart is running a series of free webinars throughout Mental Health Awareness Week, from May 10-14. These include mental health awareness and ways to improve mental wellbeing as well as conversation style events with their mental health ambassadors, all practising surveyors with experience of mental health issues. Details and booking here: https://www.lionheart.org.uk/events