The natural remedy: nature and mental health

Girl running field wind turbine
  • June Clark, Health & Wellness Manager at Nestlé UK & Ireland reflects on Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

When we have a physical injury; a professional examination or x-ray can typically determine its severity. However, when we're feeling low, anxious, or experiencing an episode or flare-up of a mental health condition, it can be harder to express or measure how bad it is. We all have different views of our well-being and ability to cope, as well as various definitions of what constitutes 'good' or 'bad' mental health.

The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Interestingly however, the link between physical and mental health is often misunderstood, and they are frequently thought of as separate entities. The perceived disconnect between “mind” and “body” creates the misconception that mental illness is not physical. In reality, your mental health has a direct impact on your physical health.

Just like your physical health, everyone’s mental health can fluctuate from good to poor and everything in between, and we really need to take care of it. Good mental health might have a different significance to each of us, but it’s generally understood to mean being able to think, feel and react in the ways that you need to positively live your life.

Good mental health doesn't mean that you always feel happy or that you never have low moods or bad days. But if anxiety, low mood, or other symptoms of your mental health condition are overwhelming or you are finding it difficult to cope with, it's likely that you don't currently have good mental health – and that’s okay. Having an awareness of our thoughts and feelings means we can take steps to manage our response.

Our mental health affects how we think, feel and act, and when we experience good mental health, we will likely be able to:

  • Feel, express, and manage a range of positive and negative emotions.
  • Carry out everyday tasks and look after ourselves. This might include having a balanced diet, taking exercise if you want to, sleeping well, working, and feeling satisfied with your work.
  • Fully engaging in activities you enjoy.
  • Building and managing healthy relationships with others.

 

If you’re not managing to achieve these things, it could be that you need to be a little kinder to yourself, allow yourself to feel not everything is all sunny but also try not to dwell there. This isn’t a ‘poor me’ feeling of self-pity – it is just recognising that sometimes life can be difficult and that you need to take a break, look at different coping mechanisms – taking holiday if you can, going on walks, talking to someone - just to try and make your life feel easier. Try not to not overthink and enjoy the little things in life.

It goes without saying that the last eighteen months have been especially challenging for many of us in a range of different ways. At the same time, it has also been a momentous year for kindness. We’ve supported the #BeKind campaign, clapped for our carers, stayed at home to protect our NHS and looked out for loved ones. Businesses have also stepped up to the plate and I am so proud to be able to say Nestlé UK & Ireland is no exception. From support with meal vouchers during the school holidays, keeping our people safe and keeping our factories going throughout the pandemic, Nestlé UK & Ireland continues to supply the nation and support its local communities, families and pets in a range of different ways.

As a nation, we have proved to be empathetic and compassionate to others in times of need. What we are not always as good at is being kind to ourselves. Many of us find it easier to be self-critical than to be kind to ourselves, but why is this? Being compassionate to ourselves is fundamental to experiencing good mental health. It may be helpful to ask yourself “how would I advise a friend who had these thoughts, feelings or emotions?” and then compare your reply to the thoughts in your mind. This can give you a greater sense of perspective and it’s much easier to show kindness to yourself this way.

Often, most of this self-criticism comes from the comparison culture that festers on social media. We criticise ourselves by comparing our lives to our connections - we’re not productive enough, not creative enough, not having enough fun, not earning as much money as others, and so on.

Similarly, we can put far too much pressure on ourselves at work, and say yes to too many people, when in reality, we are already taking too much on. In many ways, working from home and being in lockdown has made us more inclined to stay logged on for longer, working longer hours and in turn, causing more anxiety and low moods.

It is crucial that we take a step back, ignore the inner self-critic, boycott the comparison culture and learn how to say no and be mindful. Sometimes we need to just take a moment to breathe and practice physical activity - even if this means just a 10-minute walk round your local park or stepping away from your desk to meditate.

Removing yourself from the artificial world of social media and the internet from time to time and recharging your mind through connecting with nature and your mind is the remedy we all need. Nature and meditation create a sense of connection to the world, lifting your mood and boosting self-esteem, which in turn, positively impacts your mental health.

In 2014, Nestlé started to talk about mental health at all levels, which was a big cultural and behavioural change for a business that has been around since 1866. Today, dealing with mental health in the workplace is a priority for Nestlé and, in 2019, we signed up to the ‘Time to Change’ employer pledge. Time to Change is led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, and the pledge is a public commitment to change the way we think and act about mental health in the workplace. Nestlé in the UK & Ireland also supports Mind as our official corporate charity.

Little did we know that in March 2020 we would be confronted by a global pandemic, heightening the levels of poor mental health for many people. Fortunately, we were well on the way to thinking differently about mental health. We now have over 200 Mental Health First Aiders, and this is growing all the time, who are trained individuals acting as a first point of contact for those that need mental health support in the workplace, accredited by Mental Health First Aid England. We launched our Employee Assistance Programme in 2018 and last year it really came into its own, as our employees and their families had somewhere to turn if they were feeling overwhelmed and needed support.

Before and throughout the pandemic, we have also hosted and continue to host virtual workshops and events to support our employees with mental wellbeing - from meditation sessions, to moving our gym sessions with Nuffield Health to online training sessions, and internal and external activities promoting getting active in nature. More recently we launched Pleaz - a web-based platform that gives all our employees access to more than 80 video-guided breaks, called Pleazers.

I passionately encourage the mental health conversation and I welcome people to join me in taking time to appreciate our natural surroundings – whether that means a dog walk or a yoga session in the park, a cycle ride with the family or just taking time to look around at your surroundings and where you can be thankful - because connecting with nature and being mindful is how we can protect our mental health.