I have a big issue returning to work on a Monday morning having not had some time outside on the weekend. It feels like wasted time. There is a urge to use all my time being as productive as I can and without the frsh air it seems like I have failed. Green spaces and water to centre me and calm me. There is an urgent global need for accessible and cost-effective pro-mental health infrastructure. We have moved on past the previous century which was largely about locking people up and not discussing it.
Public green spaces were designated in the 19th century, informed by a belief that they might provide health benefits. Modern research evidence that greenspace can play a pivotal role in population-level mental health. Spending time outside is my way to invest in my mental state and my families mental state. Our number one common hobby is bushwalking. It is being outside together.
What makes you happy?
I have a friend who is researching what makes us happy, or rather what is wellbeing. She refers to getting outside in the sun and green spaces a lot. Of course, sleep and diet is featured, but those alone will not make you happy. We need to balance all the things in our lives and make room and time to fit them all in. One of her statements refers to nothing like nature to help us relax. Studies show that listening to nature sounds help us recover after a psychological stress (alvarsson et al, 2010) @doctor.rachel
What the research says
Dr. Andrew Lee, a public health researcher at the University of Sheffield in England, who has conducted large reviews of green-space research, says the functionality of parks is paramount for making people feel happy. “If it’s a social space, where people meet together and chat and go on walks, that kind of social contact and interaction builds social networks,” Lee says. “That’s probably where the real impact is coming from that gives people a sense of wellbeing.”
Parks without those features do the opposite. If a green space is difficult to get to, has poor lighting or is not clean, it may be seen as unsafe or inaccessible and probably wouldn’t boost a visitor’s mood, explains Lee. It is essential for communities to ensure they are providing spaces for the community. It is estimated that one in five Australians will suffer mental illness each year. Communities can greatly reduce the amount this costs their communities through providing green spaces.
Designing green spaces that bring communities together and provides an opportunity for people to come together is important. Green space is a term used to describe nature areas that are both maintained or unmaintained. It includes nature reserves, wilderness environments and urban parks. Green spaces are designated for recreational or aesthetic reasons. The effects of urbanisation have reduced the amount of green spaces as the amount of concrete increases. There is evidence of a positive relationship between levels of the amount of greenspace in a neighbourhood and mental health and well-being. Individuals have less mental distress, less anxiety and depression. There’s are greater wellbeing and healthier people in urban areas with more greenspace compared to those areas with less.
Philadelphia in the United States has had a huge program cleaning up their city. The city recognised vacant and empty lots throughout the city and designated some as clean up zones. Some were marked for an overhaul and some were marked for investment. Once a city plagued with crime and gun violence. With 43,000 vacant lots and a city desperately attempting to sell the lots, the horticulture society set about turning some of the vacant lots into useful green spaces.
Randomly chosen residents living near those lots were surveyed before and after the intervention. They were asked to rate how often they felt anxiety, hopelessness, worthlessness, and depression. They were not told the survey had anything to do with the revitalization of vacant lots. The findings are remarkable. In neighbourhoods below the poverty line, greening interventions decreased residents’ feelings of depression by more than 68 percent. Residents near vacant lots that only had trash removed saw little improvement.
Source local parks
Find parks in your local area that cater for the family. Rarely do councils have enough sense to cater for a range of age groups. Many councils have merely selected the play equipment from a catalogue where the equipment was designed by monkeys. Yes, that very equipment that will only entertain a toddler but the steps are so high a five-year-old is struggling to climb them!
The better parks and the ones that are fun have crowds at them. I have no idea why? You can of course still visit popular spots if you plan to be early and leave as the crowds increase. We try to get out and about and visit places outside our direct neighbourhood. In fact, my closest park for the kids is hideous with visitors for much of the summer so we avoid it apart form after 5 or for breakfast.
When was the last time you went to an urban park and thought this place is really something? I did last week when visiting Queensland but the neighbouring park to the awesome park was one of the previously mentioned sad badly designed packet approaches to play equipment. I truly believe we could demand more of our urban parks but luckily enough for us residing in beautiful Australia there are acre after acre of national park on our doorstep. The best views in Sydney are National Parks. Don’t look past them as green spaces to spend time in.
Evidence supports that spending time outdoors & in green spaces has health benefits such as recovery for mental fatigue and reduced stress. @doctor.rachel
As adults when we are living under stress often we are less likely to sleep well and eat well. When we don’t get enough sleep, we often feel more stressed. It’s a vicious cycle and often hard to break. What is more alarming it is now apparent that teens feel as much stress as adults. It is much more difficult for teens to now get qualifications and find work than it has been for previous generations.
‘The 2016 Census of Population and Housing has recorded that Australians are upskilling like never before, with 56 per cent of Australians aged 15 years and over – 9.6 million people – now holding a post-school qualification, up from 46 per cent in 2006.’ Click here for source
The competition for jobs is more highly educated than in previous generations. That and the added pressure of achieving good marks in their exams to make it into the highly competitive course they seek. Creating good patterns young to reduce stress in our children will help them later in life.
Get enough sleep
Poor sleep is can be caused by poor sleep patterns. We need sleep patterns to help regulate our internal body clock called the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythms are naturally tied to the sun’s schedule. I have no idea how people in Alaska cope with close to 24 hours of sunlight, nor how night owls cope. With that in mind we need to ensure we are not spending too much time inside. Being away from natural light and with increased exposure to artificial light, can alter our circadian rhythms, (thus disrupting our sleep patterns).
I spent years working as a shift worker. I spent the vast majority of that time jetlagged or low in energy. Coming home at 4.30am and trying to sleep did not work for me. Worse if the sun was already up when I came home there was very little chance of a sleep in. My circadian rhythm was wired to roosters waking me predawn on a property. I could count on one hand the number of times I have slept past 8.30am. I can have afternoon naps but no morning sleep for me, Shift work and jetsetters have their natural circadian rhythms disrupted all the time.
Early morning exposure to sunlight can help in recalibrating these sleep cycles. One of the best jetlagged tips I have learnt is ‘if your sleep sucks, get outside.’ If you are stuck on the opposite side of the world time clock – get outside and walk until you think it is an appropriate time to try and get some sleep.
Create good habits young
Start young. When you have a young family. Start getting outside and enjoying green spaces together. Start going on walks and taking in the view with them. As they grow and pressures mount they will already have skills to destress and reduce anxiety. As parents, we need to model behaviours that is of value to our children. If we are getting up early and walking the dog or going for a walk after dinner in the summer, we are modelling behaviours that will help them later. You don’t always have to have the kids with you but they need to be aware of where you are going.
Often when I have a deadline at work the pressure mounts. The kids see me tired and fatigued but they also see me going for a morning walk and following an evening bed routine. The bed routine is crucial to ensure we can get up in the morning and get outside. The kids see me bursting with energy and a full heart when I have returned from a good run and a beautiful sunrise. The coffee in my hand is also part of the ritual but I don’t apply attention to that! My husband and I chat about the people we see each day and on the odd days when the kids can join us, we point them out. We discuss things we see and how fortunate and how lucky we are to live where we live.
From little things, big things grow
You may think I am talking about a morning exercise routine and not getting outside. Ahhhh but there is method in the madness. We need to make small changes to our lives to live a fulfilled life. We need to start with little steps before we can tackle a marathon. Starting with daily and weekly walks as a family will help you when you want to tackle a bigger walk on the weekends or when you are away.
Getting the kids used to following paths and tracks is all part of the bigger picture of travelling to Yellowstone National Park and doing many hikes when we are there. (there are about 100 hikes on my bucket list of things to do) Being comfortable in nature and walking for long periods of time can be done as a family unit. (refer to my number one hobby for families)
Being near water gives our brain a rest from overstimulation, our brains are hardwired and need breaks in order to be optimally effective. @doctor.rachel
Do you find you are so much more relaxed when you have been to the lake or to the beach than if you went climbing in the mountains? I find water centres me and I can work out difficult problems or make tough decisions when I am surrounded by water. I have the good fortune of being surrounded by a harbour. Australians aren’t often surrounded by water. This is one of the most arid places on earth. It is hot and it is dry. Water doesn’t have to be only in large bodies or volume. A small fountain or fish pond can have the calming effect of the beach. Of course, you don’t have the added sensory of salt smells and sand between your toes but the sounds and the vision can help you create a meditative state. I appreciate not all water fountains are in good taste, but search and ye shall find.
There is a practise called grounding (or earthing), which results from bare skin contact on a natural surface (dirt, sand, etc.). The concept is that because the earth is negatively charged greater negative than your body- you absorb the earth’s electrons. It is thought that grounding can have an anti-inflammatory and energizing effect on the body. Grounding cannot be achieved indoors, not even in a sandpit.
Have you ever met an aggressive sailor? Or a fisherman that is highly aggressive. Perhaps being around water all the time creates chilled out personality types. I know when we go on our annual summer holiday to a small community that once was a fishing community everyone is very relaxed. There is an expression in Fiji, called Fiji time. It references that everything is a little slower there. It is like the locals are saying ‘We don’t have the modern pressures of your urban environments and we are more relaxed, just sit back and function on our time’ Our little coastal town we visit each year works the same way. Slower with no anxiety.
Every year I come back from holidays and I think I really should adapt that thinking to my everyday life. It lasts for about 2 weeks and I am knee deep in schedules and school times tables. The one thing I bring home is enjoying the sunrise or the sunset and I manage to continue that until the weather drops below 10 degrees and I no longer enjoy it. I may be spending my day at my desk rather than by the pool, on a bushwalk or at the beach but I most certainly make sure I get outside daily and enjoy nature.
Low vitamin d levels can contribute to low mood, so make sure you top yours up with a bit of (safe) sun exposure, egg yolks & fish such as tuna & salmon. @doctor.rachel
For those that know me know that I have one child that is almost albino he is so fair. His skin is almost translucent and if you don’t cover him with sunscreen and a UV top and a hat he will fry in this Australian sun. As a baby, I was feeding him and he burnt in a line down his face. We were sitting under a verandah (porch) and the sun was shining through the flooring above and he burnt. At the beach, we nearly almost always have a umbrella to get him out of the sun. It’s the Irish gene pool form my husband’s side of the family. Regardless of being this fair we all need to get some sunshine on our bodies. We need to do it safely with sun protection but for purposes of good mood and living our best life, we need some Vitamin D to ignite our happiness.
Did you know sitting under a beach umbrella or a tree you will still get Vitamin D? Light reflects and you can still burn on the sand at the beach under an umbrella. Make sure you have sunscreen on and enjoy your time outside but be sun safe. Sensible sun exposure on bare skin for 5-10 minutes 2-3 times per week allows most people to produce sufficient vitamin D. Be aware that vitamin D breaks down quickly, and it is like a piggy bank – you need to continuously top up.
Vitamin D helps the body to do the following:
- Maintain the health of bones and teeth.
- Support the health of the immune system, brain, and nervous system.
- Regulate insulin levels and aid diabetes management.
- Support lung function and cardiovascular health.
- Influence the expression of genes involved in cancer development.
Maintaining Vitamin D
Maintaining Vitamin D levels is crucial for maintaining healthy bones, reducing the risk of flu. Vitamin D has been linked to reduce the risk of diabetes, and good old Vitamin D is extremely important for regulating cell growth and for cell-to-cell communication which can prevent cancer. I am sure that people suffering cancer will say I got plenty of Vitamin D and I still have cancer. Yep, I am not an oncologist but simply repeating what I have read.
Natural light for the win
I went to the optometrist when I was in my late thirties (last week) complaining of headaches at work and finding it difficult to read. He asked if I did a lot of spreadsheet work. His summary was I needed to do less spreadsheet and come back and see him when I was 40. ‘When you turn 40, your eye site will half and you will need glasses then!’ Happy Birthday to me. He told me to get away from artificial light and get outside in natural light as often I could. Say what, getting outside can improve your eye health?
Really this should count for two distinct reasons:
- Preventing computer vision syndrome (CVS), the term used to describe eye problems caused by staring at a screen close to your face for prolonged periods
- Artificial Light provokes near-sightedness. Artificial light is bad when you are not exposed to natural light. Natural light helps prevent near-sightedness.
For six solid months after turning 40 (I am speaking metaphorically in the future as I am not 40!) I would use my iPhone to take photos of prescriptions and use the screen to enlarge the text all to avoid getting glasses. Plus, people glasses are not cheap. You will need several pairs and you will lose them.
Let’s get some fresh air
Do you ever get the old saying ‘let’s get some fresh air’ and think to yourself oh hell no. That air be and. I ain’t walking around it that c loud of pollutants. Fortunately for us I Australia apart from the odd bush fire our air quality is quite good. If you have travelled to say China or parts of Asia, you may understand why people would shut themselves inside.
My son and I were visiting Singapore during ‘the haze’ and no-one was going outside. The streets were empty earlier and it was difficult to see. It was totally crap for us as I had booked a luxurious hotel room overlooking the mountain(volcano) and we couldn’t even see the path below never lone a volcano in the distance. The haze as it turns out is a seasonal thing where areas of Asia are burning off the palm oil plantations waste and until rain the haze hangs around.
Regardless of all the outdoor pollutants, inside ain’t going to be cleaner. Ask anyone with asthma and they will suffer far more in indoor environments rather than external. There are obviously extreme environmental conditions such as ‘the haze’ or a bushfire or volcano eruption that are contrary to that advice. How often do you get the air conditioning cleaner or the filter changed at home? Now how often do you think they change it in shopping centres and at restaurants? My allergies are most certainly, heightened in air-conditioning.
Did you know that being part of nature can increase your attention span? Being in nature has also been linked in a variety of studies to improved empathy, emotional stability and greater feelings of love. I most definitely want empathetic children and emotional capable young men. Selfishly I want to feel love from all my family members at any moment they show it. From whatever angle you look at it, #getoutside has benefits for everyone on many different levels. Shutting yourself inside your own house and yard limits your health in more ways than one. Get out of the house. How far you go is up to you.
Get outside. Watch the sunrise. Watch the sunset. How does that make you feel? Does it make you feel big or tiny? Because there’s something good about feeling both. Amy Grant
It doesn’t really matter what time of day you get outside. I like the sunrises and the sunsets as they are often quieter. Of course, if it is sunset time and you happen to be in Bali, that’s the most hectic time to be out! The point about being outside is don’t take your screen with you, snap some happy snaps and take pictures but focus on enjoying the view rather than capturing it. Take a moment with a cup of coffee to sit on the point and look out. Feel the breeze on the back of your neck and smell the salt spray. Listen for the birds. Meditation 101 right there!
Lead by example
Raising empathetic children and building your emotional connection with them has a great deal to do with ensure you are a role model. Getting outside allows you to practise many things that help you build an emotional connection. When you are emotionally connected there is trust between you and a sense of security. Communication becomes open and positive and family members more affectionate making conflict less often. Getting away from distractions helps to allow you all the opportunity to just be.
So getoutside and connect.