It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and shouldn’t this be every week of the year?

In my personal journal with mental health, I forgot one thing; that I was important too. I placed the opinions of others, the workload and my internal expectations before my own health, and this had both mental and physical effects. I really wish we’d start talking about mental health in the same way that we do physical health. I had the misguided opinion that experiencing anxiety and depression was some sort of fault, and that I wanted to hide it, beat myself up and pretend it wasn’t happening; what I needed the most was to be kind to myself, be non-judgmental, and ask for help.

What I realised along this path is that we all have mental health, whilst in previous years it became a topic that referred solely to when we weren’t feeling ourselves, I think conversations are now being opened up about this more frequently. Our mental health is ongoing, and it is important to be aware of looking after it for the longer term. It is also important to acknowledge at this point that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and just because one thing doesn’t help, doesn’t mean nothing will.

The theme of this MHAW is nature. I loved this. Getting outside is a very valuable tool to me, and helps me greatly with my own mental health. I wanted to share some top tips that helped me to reconnect with nature as a busy first opinion vet.

  1. Drop the black and white thinking on getting outside. I don’t know about you, but my inner critic often likes to set the bar high. If I’m to go outside, then it should be for a few hours, a long hike, a 10km run or something ‘worthwhile’ doing. Being kinder to ourselves, and realising that even a few minutes is beneficial can really help. James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits, talks about dropping the entry criteria to make a task last less than 2minutes. The theory with this concept is that every day that is doable, but when you’ve started, you want to continue.
  2. Turn it into a mini-adventure. I used to quickly get lulled into boredom and that going outside must involve being at a local beauty spot. Instead, I treated it like a local adventure. Most of the time, I’d start walking and turn down streets I’d never been down before, and look on Google maps for green spaces; there were so many local treasures.
  3. Have a mindful walk. We have busy minds as vets and nurses. I found that switching off my phone, and very mindfully taking in what I could see, consciously observing the beauty around me and putting all the work-related thoughts on hold was invaluable to me. I’d look at the flowers, watch the bees, and make that my focus. Everything could wait, and it often brought me a lot of peace. Before going out, I’d often write down all the things going around in my head so that I didn’t worry about forgetting them, and could reassure myself it was ok to be in the moment.
  4. Look up Forest-Bathing if you need some evidence behind getting outdoors!
  5. Walking can be incredibly useful if you are feeling a little anxious. When our brain has initiated fight, flight or freeze, it doesn’t often expect us to start moving forward. Having a short walk if we are feeling a bit overwhelmed can help.
  6. Get outside at lunchtime and on breaks. I know that sadly in our profession we don’t always get this much needed time, and I hope that is starting to change, but if you do, then getting outside briefly can be invaluable. I used to find this really helpful, even for ten minutes to remind myself that my life was not all attached to work.
  7. Walk and talk. I work from home a lot now, and spend a great deal of time staring at Zoom. I started to schedule as many meetings as I could on the phone instead of video call, and then would take my phone on a walk. This had a profound effect on my mood. I’d jot notes down in my phone, or take a notebook and sit on a bench, weather permitting, if I had to write lots down.
  8. Think outside of the box, everyone is different in what makes them tick by getting outside. The charity Mind have a fantastic list of ideas, from birdwatching to nature surveys, geocaching to beachcombing.
  9. Don’t forget nighttime. As I was getting to know myself outside of work, I realised I was really interested in space and enjoyed geeking out on SpaceX and NASA. My partner bought me a telescope, and I really enjoy the late night fresh air.
  10. Be non-judgmental. Some days you’ll be shattered, and try as you might, you don’t get outside. Whereas previously I’d beat myself up for this, now I remember to be gentle with myself and know that I need the rest. I look at how to make it easier for myself tomorrow, and how to regroup.

I hope that you enjoyed these top tips of getting outdoors from my experiences, and check out the resources if you get a chance.

Always remember that Vetlife is available, and not just for time of crisis, even on the days we just need to vent, or have a listening ear.

This blog was written by Dr Katie Ford BVSc CertAVP(SAM) PGCert MRCVS on behalf of JHP Recruitment Ltd.