There are several activities we will be undergoing as a business over the next couple of months to substantially invest in our staff’s wellbeing. Over the next four to five months, we will be building a Workplace Wellbeing Strategy to an international standard, which includes developing and training an internal team of mental health first aiders. We will also be pursuing the formal accreditation as a ‘Best Workplace for Wellbeing.’ We are doing this not as a 2021 fad or because it is a box that needs to be ticked but because it is an expression of the values that we, as a company and individuals within it, uphold on a daily basis.
Mental Health Awareness Week 2021
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is nature. The link between mental health and nature has been explored by scientists for many years. In the 1960’s a study in the US found that patients who were treated in hospitals with a view of nature recovered faster. Being out in nature can turn off your brain’s stress response, which can cause lower levels of the primary stress hormone, cortisol, as well as lower your heart rate and blood pressure and improve your immune response. Our Amano office is lucky enough to be located on the outskirts of the Dartmoor National Park which provides 368 square miles of forests, rivers, wetlands and tors (rock formations), providing lots of opportunities for staff to explore and connect with nature. Although spending 20 minutes outdoors is the recommended amount to really feel the effects of nature, studies have found that just looking at photographs can deliver some of the same cognitive benefits as physically being outdoors. One wall of our Amano office is covered in a mural dedicated to the Dartmoor landscape. This brings the outside in and helps staff feel closer to nature, even when they are at work.
How I’ve been enjoying nature and the effect it’s had on my mental health
I’ve been a keen runner for a few years now. I always feel more refreshed and energised when I’ve gone for a run outside compared to running on a treadmill in a stuffy gym. At the beginning of the year I set myself the challenge of running the distance from Land’s End to John o’ Groats throughout 2021. To help motivate myself I printed off a map of my route and stuck a cocktail stick to it to track my progress so I had a visual aid. Having a challenge was great motivation to go out for a run, especially in the winter months when it was cold and dark. Being outside in the fresh air really helps clear my head. The other week I experienced all four seasons during a 40-minute run. There was wind, rain and hail followed by glorious sunshine. When you find yourself spending a Sunday afternoon in April running in hail what else can you do but smile (and speed up your running).
To start conversations around mental health I asked the eQS team how nature has impacted their mental health. It also provided me, and hopefully you too, with some new ideas in which nature could improve our mental health.
Learning a new skill
Exercise is a great way to connect with nature but there are many alternatives that can have the same benefits. Training Development Manager and HR Officer, Jen, and her sons, have been flexing their green fingers. “Last year my two sons had a sunflower growing competition with their grandparents. They enjoyed it so much they have asked if we could do it again this year. We have also started growing our own vegetables and planted some flowers in our front garden.”
Just being outside can have a positive impact on your mental health. Why not get away from your desk and have your lunch outside or read a book in your garden or nearby park?
Head of Marketing and Product, Bryony, has also been learning a new skill to help with her mental health “I’ve started to learn yoga at home. There are so many workout videos available on YouTube. I’ve always found exercise helps me clear my head. Plus, yoga in particular is proven to be good for your body and mind and is grounded in nature – every movement is connected to animals, the sun or the moon. There’s something even more relaxing about practising yoga outside surrounded by nature.”
Ways to connect with nature through exercise
Student Support Coordinator, Annette, has also been experiencing the positive effects of running. “I have definitely connected with nature during the last year and my mental health has benefitted greatly. I run three times a week normally on Dartmoor or in the beautiful countryside around where I live. I don’t always feel like going but I feel so much better afterwards. In October I challenged myself to run the equivalent distance of two marathons in a month (52.43 miles).”
“I also plunge into cold water! Over lockdown this has either been in the sea or in the river. This has been an amazing reset for me and although I have to really brace myself and control my breathing, when I exit the water, I feel like everything has been reset – body and soul!”
DSA Sector Lead, Emma, has also found herself benefitting from getting out and about and enjoying nature. “I am trying to do 10,000 steps every day. Having this target has given me the motivation to go outside and enjoy nature. It also gives me a chance to listen to my favourite podcasts. At the moment I’m really enjoying Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place and Grounded with Louis Theroux.”
Training Development Manager and HR Officer, Jen, has also been taking advantage of the green space around where she lives. “We have two dogs so there has been lots of nature exploring including the fields at the back of our house, on the fells and we recently visited Northumberlandia. Walking clears your head and gets you out of the house into nice open spaces. We also do a nature hunt if our sons are needing to be entertained. We actually found birds eggs in the field last spring so the boys were excited to keep a check on them. Exploring nature was a life saver last year for us.”
Apps that can help you get out in nature
As well as the ideas above there are also a whole host of apps that can help you enjoy nature when you are out and about. Here are some of my favourites:
AllTrails – this app enables you to quickly find the perfect hike, bike ride, or trail run wherever you are in the country. You can search by length, rating, and difficulty level and filter by dog or child friendly trails, or find trails with great views.
Chirp! – have you ever heard a bird sing and wondered what bird it belongs to? Chirp! records for 12 seconds then analyses the sound and shows you the top matches, along with photos of the birds, and hints and tips about the sound.
iRecord – enables you to get involved with biological recording. Submit your species sightings with GPS acquired coordinates, descriptions and other information. This information then provides scientists with important new biodiversity information that contributes to nature conservation, planning, research and education.
You can find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week by visiting the official website
If you are interested in joining the eQS team visit our careers page for the latest vacancies.