Why getting outdoors is good for you

11 May 2021
Lucy Holroyd Gardens

Lucy Holroyd, Community Hospital Gardens Manager, writes on the greenspace, nature and wellbeing for Mental Health Awareness Week

I tend to go out to the woods to clear my head – the smells, the silence, just being immersed in a world that belongs to the wildlife feels like getting a special pass to wonderland. However, getting there has been a challenge during lockdown. I’ve found myself struggling with the business of the City, the sounds of traffic and people, and was getting more stressed and anxious as the world started up again.

There’s a community garden near me; ‘The Croft’ on Leith links, that has been my personal haven this year. First thing in the morning, or at the end of the day, I’ve headed to a quiet spot to watch the birds and spot the changes. On a bad day I’ve been for a cry, and on a good day to sit with the sun on my face. Most days I just go and see what’s going on. I think for many of us there’s been a special place that has helped.

For those of us who work at Cyrenians’ Hospital gardens, talking about why greenspace is good for you is basically our bread and butter. I’m always going on about it, but this year, people are telling me. I’ve been so moved by the difference our gardens have made to people. ‘A haven’. ‘A sanctuary’. For patients, staff and visitors (when they’ve been allowed) the gardens have been a lifesaver. When everything else has been closed, the gardens have remained open. I’ve seen families meeting each other again for the first time in a year, vaccination staff and ward staff de-stressing after a busy day, or people coping after a tragic loss. Reunions, retirement parties, toddler groups and wards out for picnic. So many different ways to experience a space.

Working in an outdoor sector this year has its obvious benefits. It also brings challenges like long waiting lists, endless risk assessments and staffing challenges. We’ve learned as a team to look after each other better this year, and to support each other through these difficult times. We talk and connect with each other more, and are more open about how we are really feeling. We work with people who are acutely unwell, and who have been through significant trauma and loss, and we need to be present for that. Being real about it ourselves definitely helps.

In terms of a therapy, nature and the activities themselves do a lot of the work for us. Learning the art of mindfulness through the simple act of weeding or smelling a flower; taking your mind off things by doing a bit of digging and boosting your endorphins at the same time; engaging your curiosity and connecting with others on a nature walk. There’s always something to talk about that is levelling, and I love that. Asking someone in passing ‘how are you?’ can be quite a loaded question in this environment. A greeting of ‘what a lovely day’ and a conversation about squirrels can be so much more fulfilling.

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