Nature for the soul

I was brought up in the hills of Northumberland and spent my days as a child climbing trees, running and cycling across fields and fells. I need vast green spaces; to see them and be in them.  I run four times a week along our country lanes and hill trails whatever the weather sometimes with my husband. I always, without fail, feel a deep sense of joy at the end of a run.

My Grandparents lived in Cumbria and as a child my grandfather would time me to see how quickly I could climb a mountain. He’d take me badger spotting after dark and bird watching in remote spots. He took me camping and I still love it.

I learned that nature is a rich and bountiful resource which each and every human has a right to access. I learned that nature can soothe the soul and put any worry into perspective. A long walk with gates and stiles and steep inclines teaches our brains how to endure the obstacles and trials of life. It teaches us that like life, the journey is full of wonder and pain but that’s the beauty of it.

I’ve passed my passion onto my children and usually we rush out at the weekend to seek out the quiet hills, the vast views where the sky and land become one. They dance, giggle and run as soon as they get out of the car. This makes me happier than anything else in the world.

I live near a few pretty country walks but there are pylons a plenty and people around. I’m beginning to struggle with the COVID-19 lock down.

My heart aches for a gasp inducing sight of the hills. But until then we’ll make the most of our pretty local fields, woods and streams.

Rani

Gardening, Nature and the Outdoors

As we find ourselves going another week into the lockdown guidelines, I have an ever growing feeling of isolation and claustrophobia.

I never realised how important being outside was for my mental health until it became so restricted.

I appreciate how important it is to stay home and stay safe but it is now more important than ever to make sure we’re looking after our mental well-being, whilst sticking to the government guidelines.

I find the hour a day “exercise” I get out walking my dog is often my favourite hour of the day.

No matter the weather just the feeling of fresh air against my skin brings an aura of peace and safety that I struggle to find in the four walls of my home.

Be it through your choice of exercise, a walk, run, yoga in your garden or just relaxing in the sun I think being outside even if for just half an hour a day makes an unmeasurable change to your mindset.

This is an incredibly challenging and scary time for us all, but please remember everyone here at Harmless and The Tomorrow Project are here for you and our crisis line IS open for new referrals.

✉️ crisis@tomorrowproject.org.uk

☎️ 0115 880 0282

Lydia

Guest blog: Sam Ward, Horticulture Lead at Flower Pod

Garden Therapy

Sam Ward is Horticulture Lead at Flower Pod, a cut flower garden in Nottinghamshire providing horticultural activities for adults with learning disabilities. The social enterprise is part of Reach, which supports people across the county.

It’s gone very quiet in the Flower Pod garden. Like lots of other organisations, we’ve had to close our gates to visitors. And this includes all our clients and volunteers who would normally be spending this time waking up the garden after winter, planting out lots of seedlings and starting to crop our first flowers of the season. But while this is a difficult time – especially for people with learning disabilities who can be among the most socially isolated in our communities –  we can at least carry on gardening. In fact, I’d say it’s essential to the mental health of the nation, and it’s brilliant that Harmless is dedicated this week’s blogs to gardening and nature.

One reason to be hopeful is that this pandemic has come at a time when gardens are bursting to life – and that means there’s plenty to do. So long as you are well and remain a safe distance from your neighbours, your garden can keep you healthy in mind, body and spirit. At Flower Pod we take advantage of this all year round as we provide Social and Therapeutic Horticulture – an approach to improving people’s wellbeing and confidence that is fast gaining support among healthcare professionals.

An important part of this approach is the idea that looking after gardens requires us to take careful notice of small things. Nurturing the first fragile shoot of a seedling, spotting daffodils that need dead-heading, the flight path of a bee as it works its way around the blossom. These are simple and physically undemanding things. But while we’re taking notice, focused and calm, the stresses and strains of the rest of the world are forgotten and we live in the moment. Taking notice is one of the five key ways to wellbeing that Harmless talk about in their training – and it just happens to be integral to gardening.

Gardening is also a long-term endeavour, making us think beyond the next few days or weeks – also helpful when the present might feel anxious. Taking care of plants (and the animals that rely on them) isn’t about immediate or one-off rewards. It requires us to be patient and understand that things will always change and might sometimes go wrong. This is never permanent because nature works in cycles. Many of the people who garden at Flower Pod can experience profound anxiety, and the ability to work on something where they can have a go and not worry about failure is so important to what we can offer them. My favourite quote from everyone’s favourite gardener, Monty Don (who has talked about his own struggles with mental ill health), says that ‘a garden is not a place – it’s a journey’.

So we encourage our gardeners to engage in the whole process of a plant’s life – from sowing the seed in the polytunnel in winter, to potting on, planting out, and cropping and using the flowers in our bouquets and confetti. This is a slow, forgiving and creative process which, with a bit a bit of support, anyone can access. Of course, that accessibility just got a bit harder. But we’re delivering activity packs to our clients right now so they can carry on gardening. It’s not just about stemming the boredom that lockdown is bringing with it. It will also give them something positive to focus on and to look ahead to the future – the sunflower seeds we sent out will be in flower later this year and hopefully when we re-open we’ll share in their enjoyment.

Of course, gardening might also involve physical exercise – another of the ways to wellbeing, and a good way to stay active while gyms and leisure centres are closed. Here are some thing you can be doing right now.

  • Plant potatoes – you can get seed potatoes from your local garden centre – many of them are providing delivery services
  • Weeding – leave weeds to feed the pollinators, then dig them up when you see seeds so they don’t take over
  • Deadhead faded flowers – most plants will keep flowering longer if you take off the old blooms
  • Sow sweet pea seeds – these are easy and you can grow them in a pot, with some pea sticks to climb up
  • Keep watering young plants – it’s been a dry April and seedlings are still growing roots to help themselves to a drink

While Flower Pod is closed, we’re posting mindful moments from the garden, short videos to help relax and distract anyone that needs it. See our Instagram @FlowerPod_Official or follow us on Facebook @FlowerPodSouthwell to see our #30seconds of spring and listen to the birdsong.

Sam and his colleagues have benefited from Harmless’s free Mental Health Awareness training for third sector workers in Nottinghamshire. You can find out more about this training and others on our Eventbrite page.

Self harm training: join us

Our self harm training is delivered to raise awareness and skill in supporting people who self harm.

It’s a course that sits at the heart of our work and our ethos and we have ensured we are running this course to uphold a prevention agenda in spite of COVID-19.

Our services are also under threat and your support in attending our training will ensure that we can stay open to people that need us.

Share as widely as you can and please do join us if you are able.

Book HERE

How Tom rediscovered the great outdoors

One thing the lockdown has really highlighted for me is how under appreciative I was of the Derbyshire countryside only a 10 minute walk from my house. The dry, warm weather we have experienced through most of March and April has encouraged me to step into the countryside and really explore its beauty and nature.  It is not as dramatic as High Peak areas of the Peak district or have the spectacular views of Kinder Scout, but it is still stunningly picturesque. If I can take a positive from the current situation, it has at least enabled me to rediscover what I forgot was right in front of me and how it benefits me.

I have realised that walking in the countryside has some almost therapeutic benefits. It really seems to stimulate the senses and set me loose from my thoughts, anxieties, and stresses. Even when it does not alleviate those worries, there is a calmness and serenity which helps me think more clearly and calmly, meaning I can often come up with ideas and solutions to my problems whilst I am walking.

A further beneficial by-product of walking in the countryside is the exercise itself, which has replaced going the gym, and the mental health benefits that has. It keeps me active and when I am active, I feel less agitated and more relaxed. I also experience that feel-good factor or sense of achievement you often get when you have achieved a goal or target.

I realise I am very fortunate to be able to walk in the countryside, and not everyone can, but I would like to think most people have a place or an activity that can give them a sense of calmness and can give them an escape from their worries and anxiety.  However, like I took the countryside on my doorstep for granted, we sometimes forget what these are or forget the benefits they have on us. When life and time seem to fly by and external pressures are everywhere, it is easy to forget activities we can do to benefit our mental well being. Now, with many of us at home most of the day and social contact unattainable, seems to be a good time to discover (or rediscover) what we can do to help ourselves as individuals.

Tom,

Suicide Bereavement Support Officer

Some people say the kitchen is the heart of the home…

Not for our family!

The Harroe family (myself, my wife and our five little people) live in a house that costs us every penny we have, to own.

But we chose this place as our home because we have little people who are home educated and who we believe, need their physical environment to be right for the way we live.

Our home is not large, but our garden is. We have a third of an acre of Adventureland. Of nooks to hide in and secret pathways and a tree house.

Right in the middle of our garden is our old and glorious apple tree, complete with two hammocks, three hanging pods, two swings, a rope and a trapeze, I kid you not.

This tree is the heart of our family. We share hours hanging in the shade of this wonderful trees boughs.

It’s beautiful at this time of year, blossom and new growth, and we chat and laugh and the kids climb and swing.

Behind our garden we have a secret path, that reminds us all of Narnia, that leads us into woodland behind.

The proximity to the woodland, the bare footed space for our children to be free and climb and laugh and play, and our strong apple tree standing firmly in the centre (the biggest reason we fell in love with our home in the first place) makes this our forever home. Not for the indoor space, but for the outdoor space.

We are growing potatoes, strawberries, blueberries, carrots, cucumber, courgette, blackberries, rhubarb and raspberries this year – as well as the apples.

Our garden is essential for our well-being. For our connections as a family and for me, for my mental health. My hammock, in my apple tree, is the one serene place that I feel safe- disconnected from the rest of the world it feels a million miles from stress.

Our outdoors is our everything. HERE is a really rubbish video tour.

Noticing Nature – by Kirby

The first weekend of the lockdown was announced I spend the whole morning in the garden and for that time, everything was normal, everything was fine.

The main joy I get from being in the garden is not just gardening, although I sow seeds and do some planting, I am not often physically able to do much more, but it is being outside and noticing nature that helps. Watching the seasons, watching things grow and change.

The outdoors and being in nature, is something that has helped me a lot over the years. One of my main anxieties, stemming from a past trauma is going out and being outside, feel unsafe and in danger, mainly in the urban environment. My safe place is often my home, and in the past it has been a real wrench to leave at times, but slowly and gently (with support and encouragement from others) over the years I have used getting outside into nature, in the garden, to a local park, to a locals woods, field, river, hill as an escape and way to access a place of calm when feeling stuck, stressed, anxious or down. Memories of a childhood by the sea are also a way that I link back to an early safe place that was all nature, exploring, swimming in the waves, making dens and finding new creatures to marvel at.

According to new research, The University of East Anglia found that living close to nature and spending time outside has significant and wide-ranging health benefits. Their research reveals that exposure to greenspace reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure. Populations with higher levels of greenspace exposure are also more likely to report good overall health — according to global data involving more than 290 million people. It has also been found that even looking at photographs of plants and trees can have a positive impact on us! So it’s not just the vitamin D from the sun that is the going thing about being outside!

Although it would be lovely to go for a long walk through hills and vales, swim in the sea, paddle through waves and sand, the reality is that many of us can’t do this right now during the new normal of the lockdown. We’re not all lucky enough to live on the coast or in a national park, some of us don’t even have gardens but there’s a lot we can do to get closer to nature and feel some of that benefit. So here’s somethings to look out for and take time (a long look, not just a fleeting glimpse) to notice on your next walk round the block, or trip to the shops, or on your hours exercise a day or out of your window/in your garden/yard:

  • The new leaves in spring unfurling, the different colours and textures, have you noticed new leaves are soft and supple they feel?
  • Birds, pottering around, finding things for their nests, eating worms and seed, singing, chatting to each other, flying, swooping
  • The abundance of flowers, the different colours, shapes, forms and feels of them
  • How a blade of grass sounds in-between your thumbs, when you blow on it
  • The crunching of twigs under foot along a path
  • And if you’re lucky to have them – All of the creatures! Hedgehogs, worms, beetles, grass hoppers, flys, bees, bumble bees, frogs, tadpoles, toads, butterflies, moths, earwigs, millipedes, ladybirds…
  • The sounds of the wind, the water, waves, wings…

Thank you for reading. Stay home, stay safe and take care.
~ Kirby

FREE Webinars: Masterclass Mondays

Hi all,

During Lockdown, our Let’s Talk Training team have been working hard to bring you online content. Now, we have a short series of free ‘taster’ sessions running via Zoom for you to join in with, which we’ve called Masterclass Mondays. Starting on 4th May, we’d love for you to start learning with us.

Each event has a ticket option where you can select to send us a donation, should you wish. Our clinical support services are still running during this difficult time, and we could use all the help we can get to continue generating income to sustain our team, for our clients.

If you like these sessions, we may put on more, and you can see what our team has to offer and perhaps come join us on a longer session – all available to book on Eventbrite.

See you soon,

~ Claire

harmless.eventbrite.co.uk