A year ago, we posted a blog article with advice on how to maintain your emotional wellbeing at a time when the coronavirus pandemic was raging throughout the country. Businesses were shut down, busy downtowns were vacant, schools were closed, and people were isolated in their homes. One year later, we’re reminded daily that the pandemic is still with us, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Infection rates and deaths are down (at least in the U.S.) as more and more people are getting vaccinated. Businesses, restaurants, the travel industry and schools are re-opening.  Life in some parts of the country is finally returning to some degree of normalcy.

Ironically, May is Mental Health Awareness month. That’s a good reminder to see how well we’re tending to our mental health and emotional wellbeing after nearly 16 months that haves robbed many people of the experiences that provide a sense of purpose and joy in their life.

Take advantage of spring

With spring comes the renewal of life and  more options to improve our mental wellbeing despite the still present stress, anxiety and related mental health issues brought on by the pandemic. The warm weather invites us to go outside, stretch our legs and get our blood flowing. Many research studies have shown the physical and mental health benefits of exercise, or for that matter any physical activity. But what can you do if running is not your thing, you’re not a gym rat, or you don’t own a Peloton?

Get outside and walk

There are many wonderful physical and mental health benefits of walking.  Walking improves self-perception and self-esteem, mood and sleep quality, and it reduces stress, anxiety and fatigue. Physically active people have up to a 30% reduced risk of becoming depressed, and staying active helps those who are depressed recover.

Moderate physical activity, like walking, can improve a person’s cognition (thinking), while decreasing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even schizophrenia. Walking can help relieve or lessen stress. And if you live near a park or a forest, walking can be even more beneficial. Research has shown that walks in the woods dramatically improve mental health. Forestry England has gathered data from a string of studies that it says shows there is strong scientific evidence that visiting a forest can improve mood and attention span, and even enhance psychological stress recovery. According to Forestry England, walking among trees reduces levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, and a forest walk can boost the immune system through breathing in phytoncides, which trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects.

Tend to your garden; tend to your mental health

People are extremely resilient despite today’s unusual challenges. This mental health fact was highlighted in a recent publication in, of all things, the journal, Landscape and Urban Planning. Research has long found that spending time in natural settings has health and wellbeing benefits. This research also found that tending to a small garden is actually a mood enhancing activity. And gardening is something available to millions of Americans who have a garden spot in their yards or a space as small as a balcony, porch, patio or deck. The study involving several thousand adults found that gardening has as much benefit toward improving one’s mood as does that most frequently recommended stress-reliever, exercise. It also found that gardening had as significant impact on one’s sense of wellbeing (happiness) as walking, biking, or eating out at a sit-down restaurant. 

How can an activity that is usually much less intense than exercise impart similar wellbeing benefits? It’s because gardening embodies many aspects that are associated with a sense of wellbeing and a reduction of the subjective feeling of being stressed. Gardening involves activities such as being out of doors; engaging in light exercise that also requires some level- but not an intense level- of mental engagement; being present in the moment (mindfulness); being surrounded by plants and nature; and having the prospect of eating well. There is also a sense of purpose in gardening and that is growing the garden to fruition. And there is an opportunity to let go of the great creator of stress – perfectionism – and a chance to observe measurable, concrete progress as the garden grows.

So, this Mental Health Awareness month take advantage of spring, the warm weather and sunshine. Get outside and walk and if you’ve never considered gardening now is a great time to start. Maybe gardening will be come part of your “new normal.”

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions – solutions like our AI powered chatbot, TESS – to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.