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Digital Healthy Schools Newsletter – Mental Wellbeing: Outdoor mindfulness

Lucia Victor

As the weather gets nicer, we all like to spend more time outside. And we often hear about how good being outdoors is for our health – usually as we’re being hustled out of the door while the hoovering is finished. But it’s all well and good being told to “go outside”, “experience the joys of nature” and “touch grass”. Ok, you’re outside. Experiencing nature. Touching grass. Now what?

This is where the famous mindfulness comes into play. Mindfulness is talked about a lot these days. To be honest, it can seem intimidating – the idea that you have to be completely present, in a state of total calm, et cetera. But mindfulness is a skill, like anything else. You start small, and slowly but steadily improve. 

Guided mindfulness meditations are a good way to start practising, as these can help to keep your mind on track when it (inevitably) wanders. For guided meditations and help learning mindfulness techniques, there are some great health apps in your Digital Healthy Schools Library which can support you with practical techniques and reminders to practise them. Search “mindfulness” to get started – and remember that you can use the filters at the top of the page to find the best app for you.

And just to note – mindfulness isn’t for everyone. Many people find it helps them manage their day-to-day stress, but for some it just doesn’t work. You may want to try this article from Mind, for more information on whether mindfulness is right for you.

So, what is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the act of noticing what’s happening in the present moment without judgement. This could be what’s happening in your mind, your body, or around you.

Whenever you catch your mind drifting into other thoughts, just gently bring it back, without any judgement towards your mind for doing what it does naturally: drift. Notice how thoughts come and go, and create space between them. This may help you to learn that your thoughts don’t have to define you, which might help you react more calmly to situations, and teach you to reflect before you respond.

Just paying more attention to yourself and your surroundings – noticing how you feel in this moment, looking more closely at whatever you can see, focusing on what you can smell, feel and hear – are all mindfulness exercises. You don’t have to be outdoors – but this article is titled “Getting Outside”, so we’ll stay on theme.

This leads nicely onto a great mindfulness exercise you may have already heard of: the Five Senses exercise. The goal of this exercise is to calm your mind by using your five senses to focus on your environment instead of your thoughts. This can help you to be present in the moment, keeping your mind just busy enough not to begin worrying, planning or daydreaming.

  • First notice five things you can see. Try to look for things that you wouldn’t usually notice.
  • Second, notice four things you can feel. Your clothing, the ground under your feet, the breeze, any four things.
  • Next, notice three things that you can hear. Bring your attention to sounds in the background that you don’t usually pick up on, like nearby traffic, or birds singing.
  • Next, notice two things that you can smell – whether they’re nice or not-so-nice.
  • Last, notice one thing you can taste – whether it’s the last thing you ate, a sip of a drink, or your morning breath. Without judgement.

Nature has a scientifically proven positive effect on our mental health. Green and blue spaces (parks or woodlands and beaches or canals) are great – but trees planted along a street, plants in pots and even watching nature documentaries are all shown to be good for our mental health. In the section below, there are some great apps to help you get started with mindfulness and getting outdoors – you can search them in your Digital Healthy Schools Library to see exactly what support they provide and view some screenshots from within the apps to check that they feel right for you. If these apps aren’t quite what you need, try searching “mindfulness” to find the best app for you.

So get outside. Stare at the sky. Touch grass. Just pay attention while you’re doing it.

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