AFTER two years of the pandemic, the current cost of living crisis and the Ukraine war, it can be hard to see the brighter side of life.
In the UK there’s a lovely new initiative which is trying to bring a splash of colour to people’s lives through bright floral displays at major railway stations across Britain. The idea is to boost passengers’ mental health, and Network Rail, which is running the scheme with the mental health charity Chasing the Stigma (chasingthestigma.co.uk), says it hopes the installations will “lift people’s spirits” during their journeys.
The Brighter Journeys displays will then be rolled out to a number of stations across the country.
“Nature is really important for mental health, so we hope commuters enjoy seeing these floral installations and they put a smile on people’s faces,” says Jake Mills, founder of Chasing the Stigma and its support app Hub of Hope.
And Stephen Buckley, head of information at the mental health charity Mind (mind.org.uk) stresses it’s not just floral displays that can boost your mood, but any interaction with nature.
Recent research by Mind found that spending time outdoors was the most popular way to cope with the changes and pressure from the pandemic; 75% of people said they’ve coped by going outside.
“Spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing,” he says.
“Doing things like growing food or flowers, exercising outdoors or being around animals can have lots of positive effects.”
Here are a few ideas to lift your spirits…
1. Go for a walk or try another physical activity
If you go for a walk when it’s sunny, even better. But the physical activity will release endorphins, and just getting some fresh air can help make you feel better. Of course, more vigorous exercise is great, but if you don’t fancy that, then just getting moving is much better than doing nothing.
If you don’t even like the idea of walking, think of an activity you do enjoy – it could be anything from gardening to an active computer game, or volunteering outdoors, says Mind.
2. Listen to birds singing
Taking notice of things around us, such as listening to birds, smelling flowers or collecting pebbles or shells, can really lift your sprits, says Mind. A recent study by the University of Derby found feeling connected to nature had a major impact on wellbeing.
3. Get a pet – or at least stroke someone else’s
The majority of pet owners (87%) say they’ve experienced mental health improvements from owning a pet, according to HABRI.
Studies show that human-animal interaction increases oxytocin levels in the brain, resulting in a sense of calm, comfort and focus, decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and lowering blood pressure.
But while other research has found animals can also reduce loneliness and boost your mood, you might not fancy the responsibility of owning a pet. Don’t worry, you don’t have to own a pet to benefit from it. A Washington State University study has shown just stroking a cat or a dog for 10 minutes can significantly reduce your stress – so seek out the neighbour’s dog for a quick cuddle!
Music is known to stimulate pleasure and reward areas in the brain, as does co-ordinated movement. Add to this the feel-good hormones, endorphins, that are released during physical activity, and the fact that studies show dancing can improve wellbeing, mood and body image, and there’s no doubt that turning the music up and dancing around your kitchen is bound to lift your spirits.
5. Try gardening
As well as being good physical exercise, studies suggest gardening can improve life satisfaction, psychological wellbeing and cognitive function – and you end up with a gorgeous garden too!
Buckley says: “When we’re feeling low or unwell, it can be hard to find the energy to go outside or try new things.
"Even if we know something might make us feel better, it can still be difficult to find the motivation to get started, but there are things you can try.”
He suggests starting small, by just spending five minutes paying attention to nature outdoors or even in your home, by listening to birdsong recordings or just looking out of your window at trees and birds. If you’ve got a bit more energy, you could grow or pick your own food, and if you don’t have access to a garden, try planting salad leaves or herbs in a window box, or apply to share an allotment or get involved in a community garden.