Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

Nature can help us feel more grounded and reduce feelings of anger, sadness and fatigue. That’s why, this year, the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week is Nature. Here at Ridgeway Research, we’re lucky to be located in the beautiful Forest of Dean. We’re just a stone’s throw away from the Wye Valley, one of Wales’ most famous Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The Forest of Dean is one of the UK's surviving ancient woodlands.
The Forest of Dean is one of the UK’s surviving ancient woodlands.

Many studies have shown that bringing nature into or everyday lives and spending time in green spaces can drastically reduce anxiety and symptoms of depression. From growing your own food or houseplants to taking a walk in a wood, evidence shows that green activities have positive long and short-term health outcomes. While the benefits are great, it can be difficult to find time or energy to go out and make the effort to spend time in nature.

Keeping Calm in a Global Pandemic

We work with animals every day and have stunning visages right on our doorstep. Even so, it can still be difficult to feel connected. The pervasive stress of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with new routines of working from home, social distancing and intermittent lockdowns has taken its toll on all of us. Add to that the everyday stresses of home life and work, and it’s no surprise that mental health has declined from pre-pandemic levels. Shielding and self-isolation have made it all that much more difficult to get outside and spend some time in nature.

The challenges of the past year and a half have been many. Although lockdowns are starting to ease, adapting to the ‘new normal’ is a challenge in itself. It has never been more important to look after our mental health. While the term ‘mental health’ is often associated only with mental disorders, in truth, it’s really just another aspect of our general wellbeing. Like our physical health, we must look after our minds. That way we will have the strength and resilience to bounce back after difficulties.

Even a five minute break in nature can do wonders for your mental health.
Even a five minute break in nature can do wonders for your mental health.

Although the pandemic has had a significant effect on mental health as a whole, encouragingly, resilience is high. People are finding new ways to cope and are reaching out when they need help. One of the most substantial parts of many people’s lives are their jobs, and as such, it is vital that workplaces encourage good mental health practices. Fostering a welcoming environment and facilitating open communication not only helps individuals, but increases productivity.

Mental Health Challenges for Small Businesses

There are nearly 6 million small businesses in the UK and this accounts for around 60% of all employment. With fewer than 50 people, small businesses have to deal with unique challenges. Mental health is just one of these. Around 1 in 4 people experience some form of mental health problem every year. So this is a problem that almost all of us will encounter in some form, be it friends, family, colleagues, or ourselves. There is still a lot of stigma around mental health issues. But there has been a strong push towards awareness and understanding in recent years.

Ridgeway’s Plans for Mental Health Awareness Week

Educating staff to be aware of their mental health and empowering them to create positive coping mechanisms is the first step towards managing in any situation. As scientists the nature argument is overwhelming and one that all of us can tap into for free!

One of the biggest challenges can be moving from awareness to action. At Ridgeway Research, due to social distancing measures, we have had to restrict the use of indoor staff rooms. Socialising and taking a break from work can be especially challenging when it’s difficult to get away from your desk. To help this, and to provide everyone with much needed green space, we’ve decided to create an outdoor seating area.

Getting away from your desk for a bit is a good idea.
Getting away from your desk for a bit is a good idea.

Chelsea Flower show it is not, but with wild flowers borders and trees, left over from last week’s tree planting, it will encourage local species and contribute to our pledge for a greener business. Furnished with some picnic benches, and a covered patio area, we hope it will help encourage staff to take a break whatever the weather and absorb some of the benefits of taking five in nature.

As part of our ongoing commitment to better mental health, we’re providing online training courses on stress awareness for any of our staff who want a refresher. Stress can be debilitating itself, and can lead to other mental health issues. Positive coping mechanisms can be used both at home and in work. Having a strong understanding of our own abilities and stressors leads to resilience in the face of difficulty.

For more information on how nature can help and more detailed mental health advice please contact the charity Mind or the Mental Health Foundation.