The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is Nature. It is safe to say that the past year has affected everyone’s mental health. Not only did we have to deal with a global pandemic but various social issues from racism to sexism took centre stage, reminding us that social inequality still exists today. Throughout the pandemic some people turned to nature as a source of comfort. While many of us may live in the city or have spent months working from home, it is important to carve some time out to embrace the world around us. We have researched a few ways to integrate nature into our everyday lives:
Health Benefits of African/ Caribbean food
A healthy body and a healthy mind go hand in hand. The brain, like other organs, requires a balanced diet of carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and water to maintain optimal functioning. There are a variety of African and Caribbean foods which are beneficial to mental health:
- Plantain contains serotonin which can be used for the prevention and management of mental illnesses such as depression.
- Pumpkin leaves (also known as ugwu/ ugu) can be both steamed and sauteed. They are rich in B-vitamins that help to regulate moods and neurological functions.
- Moringa also contains B-Vitamins that are beneficial for mood regulation. Research into the full extent of the tree’s benefits is ongoing.
- Saffron is a spice is full of antioxidants. Similar to plantain, it can increase serotonin.
Connect with nature on walks:
We are no longer restricted to one hour of exercise a day, so we should make the most of it by taking time to connect with nature on our walks. We are constantly connected to technology through our phones, laptops, and smart gadgets. So why not take a step back? We often travel unaware of our surroundings, experiencing habitual environmental numbness. Practising mindfulness in nature is a way to combat this phenomenon. To practice mindfulness, you have to be fully aware of yourself and your environment while simultaneously blocking out any distractions.
By taking time to be mindful, you can take account of your emotion and thoughts. Put your phone on do not disturb, and take in the beauty of the world.
Simply spending 20 – 30 minutes in nature is proven to help mood regulation by reducing stress and anxiety. Going for a walk during your workday can also help refresh your mind and help you work more efficiently for the rest of the day. Additionally, spending time in natural light can help aid your focus and sleep. While we spend nearly 90% of our lives inside, we need to make the effort to get our vitamin D either through our daily commutes, a lunchtime walk or an evening stroll.
Houseplants and Gardening
Horticulture is an activity that can be enjoyed by all ages. Caring for plants can be extremely therapeutic and has been found to reduce stress, anxiety, and the risk of dementia. Additionally, gardening can boost confidence and self-esteem as you feel a sense of pride watching your plants grow and thrive. During the lockdown, I finally joined the houseplant craze, and I would never go back. I initially bought houseplants because I was ready to care for something, but I still wasn’t ready for a pet, and I definitely wasn’t ready for a child. Every time I notice my Trailing Jade plant growing, it brings a smile to my face. I know that I have given it enough light and water to flourish.
Various plants such as aloe vera are air-purifying, meaning they can remove indoor pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethane. These pollutants can make you ill and can lead to Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). SBS can affect you physically such as irritating your nose, throat, and skin, and emotionally e.g., fatigue and irritability. However, plants with air-purifying abilities can convert these pollutants into oxygen, which is good for your brain. Here are some easy to maintain plants to improve your air quality:
- Dracaena (reduces levels of benzene and formaldehyde)
- Fiscus (reduces levels of benzene and formaldehyde)
- Peace Lily a.k.a. Spathiphyllum (reduces levels of formaldehyde)
- Bamboo palm a.k.a. Chamaedorea seifrizii (reduces levels of benzene)
A final note:
While we all are excited to get back to normal life with the easing of lockdown, it can be overwhelming to some. Don’t forget to check in with your thoughts and emotions. Connecting with nature, even in the smallest of ways can be extremely beneficial in the reduction of stress and anxiety. Taking care of your body’s health is just as important as taking care of your mind’s.
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