Change that leads to better lives

Blog: Submerged in Nature

For this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week we’ve been asked to base our thinking around nature, no doubt as a reflection of the proven positive impact of the natural environment on mental health.

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We can’t help but reflect on the year gone by, it’s been a constant daily barrage of bad news, fear, anxiety, loneliness, with long periods spent feeling trapped within our homes. I’m lucky, I’ve got family. And I’m incredibly lucky to have nature on my doorstep. I can watch the seasons change, the ebb and flow of the sea, walk on the beach (though dipping my toes is as far as I get!). I’m very conscious that for many, the opportunity to engage with nature, and get all that goodness for the soul, is much different. Those living in our towns and cities have to find nature where they can, not in the big spaces but in the small ones, in life, in the sky, in the cracks in the pavements.

For me, I get my own health benefits through engaging with nature at its wildest, those barren and empty spaces where it’s just big space and big sky, the place where you can empty your head of the day-to-day clutter and just breathe. As someone who has experienced their own mental health challenges in the past, big nature, those empty spaces tell me things are ok and the world is so huge and full of positives. Big nature gives me time away from hustle and bustle, from noise, questions and irritations, from those things that wake me in the early hours.

I engage with big nature because I know it does my mind good, but because we are all different, if I told you I like to just sit on a fellside on my own in the middle of nowhere and just be, that might not make for an interesting blog for many. I think it’s far more interesting to hear or read how for others, it’s not just the sense of being in nature, but of being immersed in it. So, the following is the experiences of those that dive into nature and embrace it fully.

Here’s a view from one of those that does…

“You might find this a little extreme – for some this is stuff of nightmares – and I’m not sure I can get across the joy, but I’ll try.

I’m a swimmer. Swimming is my thing it always has been, brought up in the Lake District I think there’s just a natural requirement to get in water, however cold. On moving to Devon six years ago, it seemed the sensible thing to do was to take up sea swimming.

My swim group is diverse – our connection is the love of water - these people I would probably never meet in my everyday life, folks of all ages and professions. Interestingly many are NHS professionals who prescribe themselves this remedy to manage their mental health. I didn’t knowingly take up outdoor swimming for my mental health, and I can’t explain to you succinctly how it has changed me, but I do know that my body and mind are aligned, something I hadn’t figured on. The mental gymnastics I use to get myself into very cold water and how my body adapts is truly a mindful, in the now, experience.

So how to describe this joy…

On one warm, late summer’s evening a couple of years ago, we arranged to meet at our favourite cove. The sea was flat calm and transparent and the sky cobalt blue with just a whisper of a warm breeze. We met and swam out together. At that time of the year the sea is lush, full of colourful seaweed, and if you want, you can trick your mind into believing you’re flying over the most beautiful gardens. We swam to a ‘shell beach’ only accessible by water. As we swam closer there were flashes of silver and the surface of the water was bubbling and boiling. We were surrounded by millions of tiny silver fish, literally jumping out of the water around us - and on to us - we swam, fascinated and howled with laughter. It was then we did wonder, with so many little fish, there’s bound to be big fish! We sat on the beach for a while in the warmth and relaxed before our swim back only to spot the large dog like head of a seal, clearly enjoying his supper. We waited, some in our group are not best suited to swimming with seals, before swimming back through more shoals of fish. For all of us there, it was a magical day. The fish, the apricots we shared on the beach, the underwater garden, the warms of the water, the excitement of the mini adventure and the friendship. A sense of excitement, the power of nature, followed by the relaxation and contentment, the sense of being well.

On reflection, that particular day we were all completely overtaken by nature – it was everywhere - not just watching it or sharing it but by being completely and literally submerged in it.

We didn’t go out to get fixed by nature.

We didn’t go out to feel mentally stronger.

We didn’t go out to exercise our bodies.

We did go out to experience something, and nature gave us it.

There have been similar days of magic, but to me, that day stands out.

Simply because we decided to let it all unfold, with nature as the driver. “

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