This year’s mental health awareness week (May 10-16) theme is Connecting with Nature, and whilst that might sound lovely to us oldies, it can sometimes feel like a struggle to get our teens out of their darkened, screen lit rooms, let alone into nature. Especially after a year of walking round the local park! So today I’m going to think about why nature is good for us, and how we can encourage our teens to benefit from it (if they need a little help to get outdoors).
How is being in nature good for us?
Being in nature makes us feel connected, less isolated, and less stressed. Our mood and even memory is improved by being outdoors, so if your teen wants to improve their academic work, that may be a good motivating factor. As with any ‘behaviour influencing’ you wish to do with your young person, the key is to find what their motivation will be- improved fitness, looking healthy, academic achievement, something to put on the CV, ticking off Duke of Edinburgh activity options, meeting/ camping with friends outdoors or even pet therapy!
They might like to walk the dog or ride a horse. They may be brave and try wild swimming, or simply paint pictures in the garden. They may be a rower, runner, or cyclist (or skate boarder!). Whether it’s ‘forest bathing’or ‘ecotherapy’ they try - anxiety will reduce and sleep will improve by being outdoors more.
Unusual Wellbeing Boosts!
I’m one of those people who loves to be surprised by little known wellbeing facts (well, everyone needs a hobby!) and a couple of my personal favourites are that specific smells, namely citrus and lavender, make us feel better, as do sunlight, laughter, dancing and singing. (And now I’m thinking I should create a lavender filled garden, where we can sing and dance and laugh in the sunshine, but I digress…).
Two birds with one stone?
Gardening is also known to improve wellbeing, and a fab new study published in April by the Royal Horticultural Society (in the journal Cities) has not only demonstrated this but that in fact ‘the more you garden the better you feel’! Now I do understand that teens are not famous for being keen gardeners, but if you tie it into volunteering and helping their community, well, suddenly, the teens may be interested. Our young generation is extremely good at helping others, so if you think this might be an option I would encourage you to suggest it to them, and show them the RHS website community and volunteering page.
Nature is a fundamental part of who we are as humans; we come from the land, we evolved living in caves, and off whatever we could forage, and millennia later we are waking up to the fact that we need to protect our earth from damage done. And no generation is better at saving the planet and fighting climate change than our younger one, so this may be another motivating way to engage them with nature, be getting involved with campaigns and eco awareness. They may like to volunteer or do a school project with Greenpeace (see options here), WWF, or Friends of the Earth. These websites also have loads of ideas for ‘how to save the planet’ in teens’ day to day lives.
Don’t forget to put it on Insta!
I hope this will have given you some ideas for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek on how to encourage your teens to #ConnectWithNature, which they can then also post about on social media of course, in a positive (not competitive!) way. In life, as in everything, it is all about balance, so if they are going to spend time in their rooms online, then as long as they balance it with time outdoors, in nature, and sometimes with other people, then they will be supporting their mental health and wellbeing.