A green solution to the Winter blues
With Christmas festivities far behind us and the cold winter days stretching on, it is no surprise that today (Monday 17th January) has been given the title ‘Blue Monday’ as many of us start to feel the negative effects of lack of sunlight and time outdoors.
We are probably all aware by now that regularly spending time in nature can have huge benefits to our health and wellbeing, but a new report from Forest Research last December quantified for the first time the specific benefits of the UK’s woodlands.
The report estimated that woodlands in England save £141 million costs associated with mental health illnesses, including visits to GPs, drug prescriptions, inpatient care, social services, and the number of days lost due to mental health issues. The figures are based on evidence of the reduced incidence of depression and anxiety resulting from regular visits to woodlands.
The healing power of nature
As people who are fortunate enough to work in and around the stunning woodlands of the Heart of England Forest on a daily basis, our team has experienced first-hand the positive impact that it can have on mental wellbeing. Many of our volunteers also cite this as a motivation for getting involved with the charity.
This has been particularly important over the last two years as the pandemic has forced us all to spend increasing amounts of time indoors and created stress and worry for many.
Here, two members of our team share their stories of how time in the Forest has helped them to face the challenges of recent times, and why they believe it should be an essential part of everyone’s lives, if possible.
Jonathan Saunders, Volunteer Manager
“The first UK lockdown I found very difficult, as due to my physical health I was initially deemed as needing to isolate indoors. Being a particularly outdoorsy person, I found this very hard to handle. All of which, coupled with the sudden transition to working from home and a general concern of what was going on globally, had a very nasty impact on my mental health.
I found this period of being stuck at home incredibly challenging, feeling restless and fidgety much of the time. Like many I wondered when everything would return to some sort of normality, and the uncertainty at the time was very depressing. I felt so grateful when we were able to transition back to some outdoor work and allow the gradual return of volunteers to the Forest. Time outdoors with friendly faces and positive tasks provided me with an immediate boost to my feeling of wellbeing.
My first key change was to ensure that I get in a daily walk which aims for 10,000 steps. The Heart of England Forest Footsteps challenge has been a great help in this. By maintaining this routine, I am ensuring that I make time for nature, even on days where my schedule or the weather are trying to interfere!
Knowing that we have this abundance of outdoors to visit also aids in my getting through the day, which can turn a very busy day in front of the computer into a simple intermission from the next time that I can get outdoors and into nature.”
Mike Hudson, Volunteer Leader
“I enormously missed Heart of England Forest volunteering when it was suspended during the lockdowns and I’m very happy to be back.
Most people when they cut down on career commitments are showered with advice from all sides. Have an interest, make sure you get some structure into your week, get outdoors, take exercise, ensure you mix with people, look after your mental health; are just some of the many suggestions. Volunteering at the Forest meets every criteria head on.
I usually volunteer once and often twice a week and amongst other things, it has greatly improved my appreciation of the changes in nature through the year; the ever-renewing cycle. Indeed, there is something special about being out in nature all day doing something truly useful. I sleep very peacefully after a day at the Forest, even if it does occasionally start not long after getting home!”
The benefits of spending time outdoors
Flooded with media reporting on the state of the environment it is easy to get depressed about the future. What could be better than turning your back on all of that for the day and getting involved in planting tomorrow’s great native woodland? Find out about volunteering with us.
We would love to hear from you about how spending time in nature and woodlands has helped you and your family stay healthy and well. Share your story on with us on Facebook (@heartofenglandforest) and Instagram (@theheartofenglandforest).