Is mental health nature or nurture?

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Robyn Harris

Director at Equenergy; wellbeing naturally
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Is mental health nature or nurture?

I believe that both of these factors play a large role in our wellbeing. In terms of nature, there is our own inner nature and also the Nature all around us. When we spend time in Nature it has been proven that this supports our wellbeing. The sights and sounds of the natural world can be very calming – think of birdsong, a gentle breeze, the sea lapping on the shore, or a stream bubbling over pebbles as it flows along. Getting outdoors gives us access to natural light, fresh air and movement, all of which boost our wellbeing. Even wind and rain can feel good – rain can feel cleansing and refreshing and wind can help to energise us and to blow the cobwebs away! Obviously it helps to dress appropriately and it certainly makes us appreciate getting back indoors, preferably to some warm, dry clothes and a hot drink! Thinking, then, about our inner nature, we can be 'predisposed' to being a 'glass half full' or a 'glass half empty' kind of person. There are lots of factors that can come into play with this, which is often where nurture comes in, but it can also relate to memories that are carried in our bodies and in our very DNA. This is a huge topic in itself but just to mention one aspect – did you know that the egg cell that went on to become you, was in your grandmother?! A woman is born with all the egg cells she will ever produce already in her body, which then means that they were within her when she was still a baby inside her mother. We know that a mother's pregnancy experience will affect her unborn baby, and so it will also be impacting on the eggs that go on to become her grandchildren. That's not to say that your history will entirely determine your own experience. As the work of Dr Bruce Lipton has shown, genes can be switched on and off depending on our beliefs, thought processes and responses to stress. And as Wayne Dyer says: "When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change." The start of this change is becoming conscious that change is possible and then exploring what changes we would like to create, and how we can make that shift. In terms of nurture, our upbringing, the culture in which we live and the environment in which we spend the bulk of our time can have a huge influence over our thoughts and beliefs, and therefore on our mental wellbeing. At some points in our lives we might not have the power to choose where we are, physically, but we always have the ability to choose our inner environment – our thoughts and beliefs. I'm not saying that this is easy, and sometimes we're not even aware that we have this power, perhaps because we've never been encouraged, or given permission, to think for ourselves, or possibly because we're feeling so low and depleted that we have lost sight of this ability. This is where reaching out for support from someone we trust can be invaluable – someone who can see the possibilities and hope that we might not currently see, and who can hold that space for us until we begin to understand our strength, power and choices once more. There are also steps that we can take to support ourselves, such as: • making time for self-care, • keeping a gratitude journal, • making sure that we are eating healthily – did you know that much of our serotonin, a mood boosting hormone, is produced in the gut? • keeping well hydrated • getting good quality rest. Again, if you're struggling with any of these, please reach out for support. It's not a weakness to admit that we're finding things challenging, or even overwhelming, in fact I see it as a sign of strength and the start of your journey closer to where you want to be. Also, the journey doesn't have to be hard, a struggle or painful. It just requires simple, consistent changes that feel right for you as an individual. It can be good to take your first steps with someone by your side, but in time you will find your wings and be able to set off on your own adventures!

How can nature benefit my mental health?

When we spend time in Nature it has been proven that this supports our wellbeing. The sights and sounds of the natural world can be very calming – think of birdsong, a gentle breeze, the sea lapping on the shore, or a stream bubbling over pebbles as it flows along. Getting outdoors gives us access to natural light, fresh air and movement, all of which boost our wellbeing. Even wind and rain can feel good – rain can feel cleansing and refreshing and wind can help to energise us and to blow the cobwebs away! Obviously it helps to dress appropriately and it certainly makes us appreciate getting back indoors, preferably to some warm, dry clothes and a hot drink! The colours of nature benefit our wellbeing too. For example the blue of the sky and the green of fields and trees are very relaxing, and the brown of the earth is very grounding. The yellows of flowers such as daffodils, primroses and sunflowers is cheering, the pinks and reds of roses and cherry blossom are warming and the whites of daisies and apple blossom feel clean and fresh. These are vibrations that our brain interprets as colour through our eyes, but they also impact on our sense of wellbeing energetically too. Nature also inspires us: • helping us to be mindful when we can just sit and admire a beautiful view, a rainbow or a sunset • filling us with wonder at its beauty • helping to ground and centre us, for example when we think of a tree: the depth and spread of its roots, its strength and solidity, • giving us a sense of perspective – for example how long a tree has been growing and all the changes it must have seen, or when standing next to the ocean or looking up at the moon • helping us to see that everything has a time and a season, an ebb and a flow, and that time keeps on moving forwards.

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WILDlifeCwtch

Animals, too, teach us deep wisdom when we tune in, observe and listen with our hearts. For example, dogs teach us about having fun, friendship and enjoying life; cats teach us about independence and following our own path; and horses teach us how to hold power with grace and respect for those around us. Each species has their own particular wisdom and if you'd like to explore this further you might like to join me on my WILDlife Cwtch, taking place from 23-30 May 2021 on Facebook.
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