Embracing the green to beat the blues
(And by ‘green’, I don’t mean the medicinal TCP-based plant)
The latest visit from my family involved a moment that really got me thinking.
I’d had the idea of going to a well-loved local nature spot for a picnic. Hell, the sun was out for a change, why not? However my 14 year old, tech-adept, social media butterfly of a brother was totally out of his comfort zone. Flies making him jump out of his skin, grass spiders giving him the heebie-jeebies, clumsy tree branches taking him by surprise. Then he mumbled those thought-provoking words…
“Ugh, I hate the countryside”.
Now, the countryside gets a bad rep sometimes. Isn’t it just full of old fogies that love saying “Hello there” to random strangers? Or is it the bees, wasps and stinging nettles that put people off? It might be that muddy track that’ll ruin your new Nike Air Max. Or is it that faint chicken-shit-manure smell lingering in the distance?
Even so, I’m here, on Mental Health Awareness Week, to stand up for Mr Countryside. Because he helped me battle depression.
When I moved to Manchester almost three years ago, I was in a pretty bad way. Panic attacks were a common occurrence, my self-confidence at an all-time low and, even though I didn’t realise it at the time, I was grieving the loss of my previous life in London and the ambitions I gave up there. In short, I sucked.
But, as is life, things gradually got better and with a small dose of CBT I was on the road to recovery. One thing that also really helped me on my way was getting back in touch with the natural world. One of my new housemates was into hiking, and I took her up on an offer to go with her and some friends for a walk (super daunting at the time, but there was only so many weekends Netflix could occupy before running out of feasible viewing options). So I dusted off the walking boots I had bought in a healthier, younger life, and we set out.
Wow, did that feel good! It was spring and the bluebells were out, the song birds were back in business and rowdy grouse were defending their nests. Without realising it I had forgotten about my anxious thoughts and was focused on the task at hand. Instantly I wanted to know more. What kind of song bird was that? How do you use wild garlic in cooking? Are grouse always that mean to innocent passers-by? Will I ever enjoy climbing hills? (The answer to the latter, I’ve come to know and hate, is no. Give me a gradual gradient and I’m happy)
But the best bit — I started to feel like myself again. And the more walking I did, the more it helped me get my thoughts in order. These last three years have made me realise the power of nature and the impact it can have on mental health. Not only does being out in the wild give you fresh air and breathing space, it invigorates the senses (which can often be severely dampened when dealing with depression). I love studying the different shades of green within a landscape, imagining just how old that oak tree is, listening to a birds call, waiting patiently for another bird’s reply and that crisp smell of fern in a woodland. Beats an air freshener any day. Sharing these moments with others is the icing on the cake. And I always take cake on a hike!
Now I know when you’re in a low mood it can be hard to rip yourself out of that sofa, that office chair or, on the worst days, that bed. But taking a short walk can really change things. It doesn’t have to be a five mile hike, I enjoy sitting in the local park down the road just as much as on a hill in the Pennines. It gives you a chance to feel at ease. Even if you feel emotional, you can let it all out. Squirrels don’t judge.
Another thing — being in nature tends to put things in perspective for me. Why am I worrying so much about everyday life when the natural proportions of that tree are so beautiful? Call me a hippie, but that gives me confirmation that somehow, everything will be A-Okay.
So, I’ve decided to give my young countryside-hating brother a free pass. Maybe one day he’ll realise how much Mr Countryside helped out his big sis, and give him a break.