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I can’t believe it has been a year since I wrote my last mental health blog, discussing Kindness – the theme of last year’s Mental Health Awareness Week. I sincerely hope that everyone has been as kind as possible to both themselves and those around them over the last 12 months. Boy, have we needed to be!

On a personal level, the last year of lockdowns, tiering systems and the reduced ability to see loved ones, has been hard, as, no doubt, it has been for everyone. Without going into too much personal detail there has been a lot going on, and with the added pressures caused by the pandemic, there have been some tough times along the way. There have been some wonderful moments that might not have been possible without COVID restrictions, but with the light at the end of the tunnel now very much in sight, I can hold my hand up and say that there have been moments when I have needed the support of those around me to pull through.

Kindness is such an underrated quality in everyday life. It is so easy to be consumed by one’s own daily to-do list that it can often slip away from how we interact with those around us, and how we treat ourselves, particularly if there is a greater struggle going on in the background, which needs to be endured.

The classic British ‘stiff upper lip’ is perhaps seen as a fun stereotype but many of us would still have been raised with it as a principle to be strived for in the way we lead our lives. However, is a ‘grin and bear it’ culture really a healthy one? For small scale stresses and worries, perhaps being strong and getting through it alone is a workable strategy. But, for a year-long (and counting) global pandemic, it simply isn’t a viable option. We all need to admit when things are tough. We all need to talk to those around us. And we all need to be kind to ourselves and others to come out the other side in one piece.

Kindness comes in many forms, big and small. Whether it is volunteering at a testing centre, dropping surprise gifts round to friends and family, or just treating yourself to a slice of cake – they all count. And with kindness and compassion as guiding principles over the last year, hopefully we have all been able to share some wonderful joy-filled moments.

Which brings me to this year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week: Nature.

It almost seems counter-intuitive that the year we have all been confined to our homes has also been the year we have managed to reconnect with nature and the joy that it brings. Given the limitations on seeing other people, making the most of the green spaces around us has, for many, been a vital crutch.

Running or walking in the park has become the pastime of choice – certainly for those of us living in the city. Garden centres have seen a boom in interest, both from those with outside space and those that want to bring some greenery into their homes. Peering over my monitor at a pair of recently purchased pot plants has given me a shot of happiness on numerous occasions!

Just being outdoors has been shown to improve mood, reduce stress, improve physical health, as well as confidence and self-esteem. The trick is going to be continuing to incorporate nature into our everyday routines once restrictions lift and we return to a more familiar pattern of living.

For some, this is easier than others. Those living outside the city have nature on their doorstep. It is likely an active part of one’s lifestyle, whether it be weekend walks, rounds of golf or even just spending time in the garden.

For the city-dwellers among us, it is tougher, but vital. Looking up from the daily grind to catch sight of the birds in the trees (the swallows and swifts will soon return for summer), or taking note of the daffodils and crocuses flowering (as they did last month) are simple ways of bringing a welcome dose of joy into your day and feeling the associated wave of relaxation.

Some of it might sound cheesy to the more cynical, but if there is a positive from the last 12 months to carry forward, it is a greater public appreciation for and connection with nature. Continue to use it to your advantage – it is a free de-stressing device!

If I can leave you with one suggestion, it is to #ConnectWithNature. Try to find the time for yourself this week to go out and open your awareness to the natural world around you. If you have the chance to take a photo of your experience then please feel free to share, along with your story of nature.

For more information on Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s theme, please visit the Mental Health Foundation website

More information about Mental Health First Aid is available from the MHFA England website

And Mental Health First Aid USA

As ever, there are excellent resources available from MIND

Written by George Gilmore, Business Director at rEvolution