Did you know this week is Mental Health Week? From October 7 to 13, organisations and individuals across the country are focusing on raising awareness of the importance of our mental health. Maintaining our mental health and well-being is just as important as looking after our physical health.
I have always been an anxious person. In the past few years I have found that being outside seems to helps calm me down when my mind is racing. Be it a walk around the block, sitting in a local park, or better yet, tackling an epic mountain trail with some fantastic views. Something about the fresh air, sunshine and exercise can pull back to reality. And science seems to agree.
In case you need further convincing (or you are a nerd like me and need to see that empirical evidence to back everything up!), here is why getting outside and hitting the trails is good for your mind:
Researchers have found that people who spend time in a nature environment reported lower levels of rumination (self-focused patterns of thought) compared to people who were in an urban environment. This self-focused type of thinking is often linked to higher rates depression and anxiety.
Being outside away from the pressures of modern life and the constant pull of technology (looking at you, iphone!). Hiking allows us to disconnect from these distractions. Research also indicates that spending time in nature away from technology may increase our ability to problem solve and think creatively, reducing mental fatigue.
We all know exercise is important for maintaining our physical health, but it is just as important for our mental health. Studies suggest that exercise, even in small bouts, can provide immediate elevations in mood. Exercise in nature with a group of friends has also been found to improve mood and self-esteem. That sounds like an even better excuse to get outdoors with some pals (or Melbourne Girls Outside, wink wink nudge nudge)!
The mere act of being outside among the wilderness has been linked to a variety of benefits to our mental health. In some countries in Asia, ‘forest-bathing’ or nature therapy, is even prescribed to combat stress. Being outdoors in the sunshine is also important for our vitamin D and serotonin levels, which are linked to maintaining our mood and our sleep-wake cycle.
And most importantly, reach out. Melbourne Girls Outside offers an opportunity to connect with like minded women from all walks of life in an open space. Reach out and ask someone if they are okay if you think they might need a hand or a chat. Or just take the time to disconnect from the stressors of everyday life and have a laugh with your new found tribe.
If you, a friend, a family member, or anyone else you know needs help, there are a variety of places to seek help. Speak to your GP, call Lifeline (13 11 14), or contact your local mental health triage.