If you’re a runner and you sprain your ankle, you’ll probably put some ice on it and take a week or two off training in order to recover. If you break your arm, you’ll go to the hospital, have it put in a plaster cast and give it 6 weeks or more to mend.

We’re all pretty good at looking after our physical health when we get injured, but many of us aren’t so good when it comes to our mental health. We know – you feel like you’ve heard this a million times before, particularly since lockdown, but it really is incredibly important that we all take our mental health more seriously. This week, from 10th to 16th May, Mental Health UK is hosting Mental Health Awareness Week, and the theme for this year’s event is Nature.

Whether you’ve been surrounded by nature nearly every day of your life, recently moved somewhere green because of the pandemic or have been wringing every possible moment out of your local urban park, we’ve all felt the calm and clarity that nature can bring this year.

To help you take care of yourself this Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve put together five things you could do with nature in order to take some time to reflect.

1. Do some outdoors exercise

Whether you’re able to fit a triathlon into your Mental Health Awareness Week routine or a gentle stroll to your local park and back, try to take some time to move in nature. The activity will release endorphins and the scenery will give you a boost, particularly when we’ve spent the majority of the last twelve months looking at four walls instead!

As you’re moving, you can take time to check in with how you’re feeling – physically and mentally. Do you feel more energised? Completely exhausted? Overwhelmed? The beauty of exercise is it allows you to recognise these feelings without the pressure of having to “fix” them. Acknowledge them and then let them pass by.

If you normally exercise with others, you can encourage mental health awareness by starting a conversation about how you feel, either during or after your workout.

2. Have a picnic

In line with your local social distancing guidance, grab a friend or two and head to your local park, someone’s garden or even a bench on a leafy street. Each bring some food to share and have a good old catch up. We know it can seem like there’s nothing to talk about at the moment – no holiday stories to share or real-life office drama – but we know that’s not true.

Have you watched any good movies or TV shows recently? Read any good books or articles? Picked up a new hobby? Your friends would love to hear about them, just like you’ll want to hear about theirs.

You can also take some time to talk about how each of you are feeling; don’t sugar-coat any negative emotions you’ve been having, but also recognise that your friends can’t snap their fingers and make the bad feelings go away, no matter how much they’d like to. They can look out for you and listen, though, and sometimes that’s exactly what we need when we’re feeling down.

3. Do some gardening

The RHS states that studies have shown improved mood, reduced stress levels and improved the attention span of people who live or work in environments that house indoor plants. Indoor gardening is also incredibly accessible, as you can pick up a small pot, some compost and some seeds from your local garden centre for the price of a takeaway coffee. If you get seeds like basil or rocket, it’ll work out even cheaper as you’re saving money on buying those things later on!

House plants can also be a good way to remind us to take care of ourselves. Every time you water your plant, why not drink a glass of water yourself? The plant needs sunlight, and so do you – make sure you go outside in the daylight as many days a week as you can! It can also be comforting to think about how no one else in the world knows how to take care of your plants as well as you do.

4. Sit

This one definitely sounds a bit strange because many of us have been sitting (at desks, in front of the TV, in bed) for more time than ever in the last year. But if you’re working, watching Netflix, calling people, playing video games, reading or doing anything else, you’ll still feel the benefit of this.

Find a spot in a park, field, garden or even in your home with the windows open, and just sit. You could use a guided mediation on an app like Headspace if that’s your thing, or you could simply sit in silence. You can have your eyes open or closed (although make sure you’re in a safe space if you go for the latter) as you try to empty your mind.

That doesn’t mean you should force away any thoughts, worries or feelings that come to you. Allow them to float in, recognise them, but don’t hold onto them. Let them float right on out. If that doesn’t sound like you, you could use each of your senses to keep you present instead. Cycle through what you can hear, see, smell, taste and touch, allowing yourself to enjoy the feeling of being in nature.

5. Take part in Mental Health UK’s tulip project

Mental Health UK has teamed up with Paul Cummins MBE, an award-winning artist, in order to create a nationwide tulip campaign. As we’re well into Spring for Mental Health Awareness Week, Paul has donated an original illustration of a tulip in bloom to Mental Health UK, and you can download it from their website. You’re then encouraged to print it off, or draw your own tulip, colour it in blue and display it in your window as a sign of mental health awareness.

By the end of Mental Health Awareness Week, we hope to see lots of blue tulips in windows around us, to show that we’re all thinking about our mental health.

We hope at least some of these suggestions are things you’d like to give a go (we know that everyone is unique and has different ways of caring for themselves!). You can let us know which ones you get up to via our social media accounts, which are linked below.

Pledjar is passionate about mental health, which is why we have partnered with a range of charities that focus on supporting those who need more mental health support. You can donate your spare change to any of the below via Pledjar and help make real change to people struggling with their mental health.

–   Shawmind provides mental health education and support to community projects, schools and workplaces – helping us all do everything we can to care for those around us.

–   The Mintridge Foundation promotes active lifestyles and positive mental health among children and young people, specifically through programmes with sporting role models.

–   First Steps ED specifically supports people of all ages (and their families) who are affected by eating difficulties and eating disorders (EDs).

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