Wellbeing Blog

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The annual Aberdeenshire Wellbeing Festival is returning next week with a number of exciting online and in-person events taking place for all ages.

The festival, now in its sixth year, coincides with National Mental Health Week and will run from Monday to Sunday.

It aims to recognise the importance of community activity in promoting wellbeing and reconnect and support personal mental wellbeing.

A number of organisations, community groups, public services and individuals will be working in partnership to put together the programme of activities.

Partners include Live Life Aberdeenshire, Aberdeenshire Council, Community Mental Health (Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership), Public Health (NHS Grampian), and the third sector including SAMH and Pillar Kincardine.

Individual contributors include Grandma Griggly.

Walks, drawing workshops, talks, gardening and yoga classes, outdoor entertainment and more will be taking place during the seven-day-long event.

Calvin Little, public health co-ordinator – Central Aberdeenshire, says the partnership effort is “immense” with services recognising their role in promoting mental wellbeing.

“This is the sixth year of the Aberdeenshire Wellbeing Festival, the first took place in May 2016 in support of National Mental Health Week,” Mr Little added.

“It was initially established to engage a wider audience, beyond service providers, in promoting mental health.

“The festival takes a whole population approach to promoting good mental wellbeing, preventing mental illness, reducing stigma and supporting recovery. It acknowledges that mental health and wellbeing should be and is everybody’s business.

“Poor mental health is a significant health and social issue and is arguably the single most prevalent and preventable cause of poor health and disability.

“While it is recognised that action to improve mental health needs to take place at all levels in society, the Wellbeing Festival celebrates local community activity which promotes mental wellbeing at an individual and community level.

“Everyone has mental health and therefore mental health is everyone’s business. Being mental health aware as individuals not only helps us to look after our own wellbeing but also helps reduce stigma and be more supportive of those in recovery or needing help.”

The theme of this year’s festival is nature and the environment and to raise awareness of the internationally recognised five steps to mental wellbeing.

Mr Little said: “The festival has grown year on year with more organisations, individual and community groups participating.

“Last year, due to the Covid-19 lockdown and restrictions on meeting, the events organised were cancelled and at short notice was moved to being a small number of virtual events to support people to connect online.

“The festival for 2021 is a blended programme with virtual sessions and outdoor events which comply with Covid guidelines.

“There will be a broad range of community-based activities which help people to connect, learn, give off their time, be more active and more mindful of others and the environment.

“There are also new events, some to mention are The Science of Self Care, Stories to Make You Smile, Generations Together, What is A Positive Mindset, Chilli Con Calm, Granma Griggly’s reminiscence with hats, Indian cookery.

“It has been a lot of work pulling this together. We can’t wait to hear feedback from the event hosts and participants.”

Visit https://www.nhsgrampian.org/aberdeenshirewellbeingfestival

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Why Nature is the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 - from mentalhealth.org.uk

‘There is something to be wondered at in all of Nature’ - Aristotle

In the first lockdown, I called an elderly friend. She lives alone and had recently had a fall. Separated from her community, she had lost all in-person contact. When I asked her how she had got through it, she told me it was taking daily comfort from watching the birds sing to each other on the fence and the flowers re-emerge from the frosts of winter.

During long months of the pandemic, millions of us turned to nature. Our research on the mental health impacts of the pandemic showed going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies and 45% of us reported being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health. Websites which showed footage from webcams of wildlife saw hits increase by over 2000%. Wider studies also found that during lockdowns, people not only spent more time in nature but were noticing it more.

It was as if we were re-discovering at our most fragile point our fundamental human need to connect with nature.

Nature and our mental health

Nature is so central to our psychological and emotional health, that it’s almost impossible to realise good mental health for all without a greater connection to the natural world. For most of human history, we lived as part of nature. It is only in the last five generations that so many of us have lived and worked in a context that is largely separated from nature. And it is only since a 1960s study in the US found that patients who were treated in hospitals with a view of nature recovered faster, that science has started to unpack the extraordinary health benefits.

During Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, we will pull together the evidence that demonstrates the powerful benefits of nature for our mental health. We will look at nature’s unique ability to not only bring consolation in times of stress, but also increase our creativity, empathy and a sense of wonder. It turns out that it is not just being in nature but how we open ourselves up and interact with nature that counts. We will show that even small contacts with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health, and preventing distress.

Nature is our great untapped resource for a mentally healthy future.

Despite this, many of us are not accessing or benefitting from nature. Teenagers in particular appear to be less connected with nature and around 13% of UK households have no access to a garden. We want to challenge the disparities in who is and who isn’t able to experience nature. Nature is not a luxury. It is a resource that must be available for everyone to enjoy - as basic as having access to clean water or a safe roof over our heads. Local and national governments need to consider their role in making this a reality for everyone, and we will be talking about how they can do so during the week.

What are the goals for the week?

We have two clear aims. Firstly, to inspire more people to connect with nature in new ways, noticing the impact that this connection can have for their mental health. Secondly, to convince decision makers at all levels that access to and quality of nature is a mental health and social justice issue as well as an environmental one.

2021 is going be a huge year for nature: a new Environment Bill will go through the UK Parliament which will shape the natural world for generations to come; the UK will host the G7 nations where creating a greener future will be a key priority and a historic international UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be hosted in Glasgow in November.

There could not be a more important time to understand the links between nature and mental health.

What you can do

Stories are the best tools we have to influence change. Unless we can demonstrate nature’s role in bringing solace and joy to our lives, it will remain under-valued and under-utilised.

We want to hear your stories of how nature has supported your mental health. This might be as a simple as tending to a house plant, listening to the birds, touching the bark of trees, smelling flowers or writing a poem about our favourite nature spot.

Whatever it is for you, we invite you to #ConnectWithNature and share what this means for you.

During Mental Health Awareness Week, we are asking you to do three things: 

  • Experience nature: take time to recognise and grow your connection with nature during the week. Take a moment to notice and celebrate nature in your daily life. You might be surprised by what you notice!
  • Share nature: Take a photo, video or sound recording and share the connections you’ve made during the week, to inspire others. Join the discussion on how you’re connecting with nature by using the hashtags #ConnectWithNature #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
  • Talk about nature: use our tips, school packs, research and policy guides to discuss in your family, school, workplace and community how you can help encourage people to find new ways to connect with nature in your local environment.

For more information about this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week visit mentalhealth.org.uk/mhaw or join the conversation on social media using #ConnectWithNature and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek 

Top tips on connecting with nature to improve your mental health from mentalhealth.org.uk

There’s a lot of good research to support the role nature can play in protecting and supporting our mental health.   

For many of us though, 'being in nature’ may not be as easy as it sounds.  

The good news is, you don’t have to climb a mountain to feel the benefit – there are lots of simple ways to bring nature into your everyday. 

Here are some top tips on how you can build your own connection with nature: Illustration of a man and woman looking through their window at a bird flying

1. Find nature wherever you are 

Nature is all around us. It might be a garden, a local park, a nearby beach or open countryside. Even in cities where nature can be harder to find, there’s things community gardens or courtyards to discover and explore. Look out for the unexpected – an urban fox on your way out for the early shift, changes in the weather or birdsong outside your window. Try to notice nature wherever you are, in whatever way is meaningful for you. 

An illustration of two women, one holding a baby, looking at a squirrel in a tree

2. Connect with nature using all of your senses. 

Taking some quiet time to reflect in natural surroundings using all your senses can be a real boost to your mental health. Whether you’re relaxing in the garden or on your way to work, try listening out for birdsong, look for bees and butterflies, or notice the movement of the clouds. All of these good things in nature can help you to find a sense of calm and joy. 

An illustration of a couple on a bench surrounded by plants

3. Get out into nature 

If you can, try to spend time visiting natural places - green spaces like parks, gardens or forests – or blue spaces like the beach, rivers and wetlands. This can help you reduce your risk of mental health problems, lift your mood and help you feel better about things. If it feels daunting to get outside, try going with a friend or relative, or picking somewhere familiar.  

An illustration of a woman gardening

4. Bring nature to you 

Sometimes it’s hard to access natural places because of where you live, how busy you are, how safe you feel or your health. Why not try bringing nature into your home? Having plants in the house is a great way to have something natural to see, touch and smell – pots of herbs from the supermarket are a good start. 

If you have a garden, allotment or balcony, think about how you can make the most of it. Grow flowers, plants or vegetables, get a bird feeder and take in the sights and sounds around you. 

If planting isn’t your thing, you can also connect to nature through stories, art and sound recordings. Watching films or TV programmes about nature are also great way to connect with and reflect on nature. 

An illustration of a couple walking their dog

5. Exercise in nature 

If you're physically able to exercise, try to do it outside – whether it’s a run, cycle or a short walk. Walking or running outdoors in nature may help to prevent or reduce feelings of anger, tiredness and sadness. Try leaving the headphones at home – unless you’re listening to nature sounds of course! Or why not try new routes that bring you closer to green spaces or water? 

An illustration of an older man drawing leaves and plants in his notebook

6. Combine nature with creativity 

Try combining creativity with your natural environment. This could involve taking part in creative activities outside, like dance, music, or art. All of these things can help reduce stress and improve your mood. You could also increase your sense of connection by taking photos, writing, drawing or painting pictures of the landscape, plants or animals. Noticing the beauty of nature and expressing this creatively can help you find meaning and an emotional connection to nature that will stay with you for a lifetime. 

An illustration of a woman watering the flowers in her window box

7. Protect nature 

Taking care of something can be a really great way to feel good. And what better thing to take care of than nature? Nature is truly amazing – do what you can to look after nature - in your actions and choices. This can be as simple as recycling, to walking instead of driving, or even joining community conservation or clean-up groups. Taking care of nature can help you feel that you're doing your part, and that can make you feel more positive all round.  

10 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress and Anxiety - from our friends at www.healthline.com

 

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Stress and anxiety are common experiences for most people. In fact, 70% of adults in the United States say they feel stress or anxiety daily.

Here are 16 simple ways to relieve stress and anxiety.

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1. Exercise
 

Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to combat stress.

It might seem contradictory, but putting physical stress on your body through exercise can relieve mental stress.

The benefits are strongest when you exercise regularly. People who exercise regularly are less likely to experience anxiety than those who don’t exercise (1).

There are a few reasons behind this:

  • Stress hormones: Exercise lowers your body’s stress hormones — such as cortisol — in the long run. It also helps release endorphins, which are chemicals that improve your mood and act as natural painkillers.
  • Sleep: Exercise can also improve your sleep quality, which can be negatively affected by stress and anxiety.
  • Confidence: When you exercise regularly, you may feel more competent and confident in your body, which in turn promotes mental wellbeing.
  • Try to find an exercise routine or activity you enjoy, such as walking, dancing, rock climbing or yoga.

Activities — such as walking or jogging — that involve repetitive movements of large muscle groups can be particularly stress relieving.

SUMMARY

Regular exercise can help lower stress and anxiety by releasing endorphins and improving your sleep and self-image.

2. Consider supplements
 

Several supplements promote stress and anxiety reduction. Here is a brief overview of some of the most common ones:

  • Lemon balm: Lemon balm is a member of the mint family that has been studied for its anti-anxiety effects (2Trusted Source).
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: One study showed that medical students who received omega-3 supplements experienced a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms (3Trusted Source).
  • Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat stress and anxiety. Several studies suggest that it’s effective (4Trusted Source).
  • Green tea: Green tea contains many polyphenol antioxidants which provide health benefits. It may lower stress and anxiety by increasing serotonin levels (5Trusted Source).
  • Valerian: Valerian root is a popular sleep aid due to its tranquilizing effect. It contains valerenic acid, which alters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors to lower anxiety.
  • Kava kava: Kava kava is a psychoactive member of the pepper family. Long used as a sedative in the South Pacific, it is increasingly used in Europe and the US to treat mild stress and anxiety (6Trusted Source).

Some supplements can interact with medications or have side effects, so you may want to consult with a doctor if you have a medical condition.

SUMMARY

Certain supplements can reduce stress and anxiety, including ashwagandha, omega-3 fatty acids, green tea and lemon balm.

3. Light a candle
 

Using essential oils or burning a scented candle may help reduce your feelings of stress and anxiety.

Some scents are especially soothing. Here are some of the most calming scents:

  • Lavender
  • Rose
  • Vetiver
  • Bergamot
  • Roman chamomile
  • Neroli
  • Frankincense
  • Sandalwood
  • Ylang ylang
  • Orange or orange blossom
  • Geranium

Using scents to treat your mood is called aromatherapy. Several studies show that aromatherapy can decrease anxiety and improve sleep (7Trusted Source8Trusted Source9Trusted Source).

SUMMARY

Aromatherapy can help lower anxiety and stress. Light a candle or use essential oils to benefit from calming scents.

 
4. Reduce your caffeine intake
 

Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, chocolate and energy drinks. High doses can increase anxiety (10Trusted Source).

People have different thresholds for how much caffeine they can tolerate.

If you notice that caffeine makes you jittery or anxious, consider cutting back.

Although many studies show that coffee can be healthy in moderation, it’s not for everyone. In general, five or fewer cups per day is considered a moderate amount.

SUMMARY

High quantities of caffeine can increase stress and anxiety. However, people’s sensitivity to caffeine can vary greatly.

5. Write it down
 

One way to handle stress is to write things down.

While recording what you’re stressed about is one approach, another is jotting down what you’re grateful for.

Gratitude may help relieve stress and anxiety by focusing your thoughts on what’s positive in your life.

SUMMARY

Keeping a journal can help relieve stress and anxiety, especially if you focus on the positive.

6. Chew gum
 
For a super easy and quick stress reliever, try chewing a stick of gum.

One study showed that people who chewed gum had a greater sense of wellbeing and lower stress (11).

One possible explanation is that chewing gum causes brain waves similar to those of relaxed people. Another is that chewing gum promotes blood flow to your brain.

Additionally, one recent study found that stress relief was greatest when people chewed more strongly (12).

SUMMARY

According to several studies, chewing gum may help you relax. It may also promote wellbeing and reduce stress.

 

Social support from friends and family can help you get through stressful times.

Being part of a friend network gives you a sense of belonging and self-worth, which can help you in tough times.

One study found that for women in particular, spending time with friends and children helps release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. This effect is called “tend and befriend,” and is the opposite of the fight-or-flight response (13Trusted Source).

Keep in mind that both men and women benefit from friendship.

Another study found that men and women with the fewest social connections were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety (14Trusted Source).

SUMMARY

Having strong social ties may help you get through stressful times and lower your risk of anxiety.

 
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8. Laugh
 

It’s hard to feel anxious when you’re laughing. It’s good for your health, and there are a few ways it may help relieve stress:

  • Relieving your stress response.
  • Relieving tension by relaxing your muscles.

In the long term, laughter can also help improve your immune system and mood.

A study among people with cancer found that people in the laughter intervention group experienced more stress relief than those who were simply distracted (15Trusted Source).

Try watching a funny TV show or hanging out with friends who make you laugh.

SUMMARY

Find the humor in everyday life, spend time with funny friends or watch a comedy show to help relieve stress.

9. Learn to say no
 

Not all stressors are within your control, but some are.

Take control over the parts of your life that you can change and are causing you stress.

One way to do this may be to say “no” more often.

This is especially true if you find yourself taking on more than you can handle, as juggling many responsibilities can leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Being selective about what you take on — and saying no to things that will unnecessarily add to your load — can reduce your stress levels.

SUMMARY

Try not to take on more than you can handle. Saying no is one way to control your stressors.

10. Learn to avoid procrastination
 

Another way to take control of your stress is to stay on top of your priorities and stop procrastinating.

Procrastination can lead you to act reactively, leaving you scrambling to catch up. This can cause stress, which negatively affects your health and sleep quality (16).

Get in the habit of making a to-do list organized by priority. Give yourself realistic deadlines and work your way down the list.

Work on the things that need to get done today and give yourself chunks of uninterrupted time, as switching between tasks or multitasking can be stressful itself.

SUMMARY

Prioritize what needs to get done and make time for it. Staying on top of your to-do list can help ward off procrastination-related stress.