Whether I’m walking within the Brecon Beacons, climbing mountains in Nepal or camping alongside volcanoes in Indonesia, the buzz, the hit, the feeling is still the same. It ignites something within your soul, elevates your thought pattern and will colourise your life. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, whatever quest you’re on, the medicine, the Holy Grail is always the same; it’s called nature.
Statistical data reveals that one in four people in Wales suffer with mental health problems. The overall cost of mental health problems in Wales is an estimated £7.2 billion a year and by 2020 it is estimated that mental ill health related problems will be second to heart disease as the leading contributor to the global burden of disease.
I’m certainly no doctor and my depth of knowledge relating to the complexities of mental health is primitive. However, I’m a true believer in nature and the positive benefits that nature has on the human brain and mindset. Nature is organic medicine for the mind and body, it is accessible and to experience its benefits, the costs are minimal. As mental health problems continue to rise, the role of National Parks in Wales and how they can be utilised for mental health prevention, management and rehabilitation is fundamental.
Taking part in activities within a National Park such as walking, jogging, kayaking or climbing will create a release of chemicals within the body – endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. This natural chemical concoction will improve moods, alleviate anxiety, stress and depression and assist in helping people realise their goals and desires.
Connection with Nature
Spending time within nature, inhaling fresh air and becoming more mindful will essentially over time help rewire the brain and in doing so improve the mood. A study in 2015, by Yannick Joye, PhD, a researcher at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands revealed that people who looked at awe-inspiring images of nature experienced a greater increase in mood than those looking at ‘mundane’ images. They were not totally sure why this actually occurs, but speculated that ‘nature contains a lot of repetitive structure, which is ‘easy’ on our minds’. Similarly, they found that the mood improvement was created by the feeling of ‘awe’ which can “pull you away from your daily petty concerns, and this could improve your mood — which is actually often determined by those small concerns.”
We are now researching and gaining scientific understanding of the powers within nature and how this can truly influence the body, mind and soul. This is no new age philosophy, it is strongly sculpted within the wisdom of our ancestors and indigenous communities throughout the world.
As pressures will continue to mount on the Welsh Government in relation to prioritising mental health issues, it’s crucial for them to fund and successfully engage with Wales’ National Parks.