08/05/2017 10:46 BST | Updated 08/05/2017 10:46 BST

How Nature Improves Your Mental Health

I'm Hayley, and I am part of the overwhelmingly high statistic of people who struggle with a mental health problem. I choose my words carefully. I struggle with mental health on a daily basis, sometimes it's debilitating but it does not own me, I am not my mental health problems and some days are better than others.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and as the core of my business (and life) is about promoting positive wellbeing and emotional health I wanted to share some information, and hopefully inspiration with you.

When I sat there five years ago in the doctor's surgery being given my diagnosis and prescription for tablets, every part of my body rejected it. I felt a deep instinct to learn more, to work out how I could help myself and how I could get better. I know from the people I work with that many of them also want to feel in control of their own treatment and take more ownership, perhaps that taking drugs does not give them.

I realised that between the panic, extreme fear and catastrophizing thoughts that my life had become, I felt calmer in certain situations. Taking my dog for a walk helped me feel normal, having a picnic in the garden made me smile, digging my allotment focused my thoughts and I love the buzz you get from skiing or clifftop blustery walks. There was a theme in all my happiness. It was all outdoors. Being in nature made me feel better, manage my thoughts and lighten my load.

Fast forward five years, a lot of reading, training, qualifications and learning later and I now run a business which uses nature as inspiration to help people feel better.

I'm an ecotherapist and am found running outdoor coaching sessions whilst hiking with a client, running outdoor team building days with companies in Yorkshire, toasting marshmallows on my retreats and building dens on my ecotherapy workshops!

But why nature?!

I believe that nature can heal us. Every single one of us. Of course people also need medication, therapies, good nutrition and other holistic therapies to help them along the way but I believe nature is absolutely essential to our emotional health. There is loads of research on the benefits of being in nature and loads of ways that you can connect with nature.

Here's what happens when you step outside:

1. Breathe Easy - The most obvious benefit but not one to be overlooked. Breathing fresh air not only improves our circulatory system and our respiratory system, but all that oxygen also helps improve our energy levels, makes us more alert, and sharpens our concentration.

2. Creativity - Being out in nature actually causes our brain functions to shift. We spend most of our life glued to screens, but nature causes something called 'soft fascination' to kick in. This happens when our brain realises it can drop the intense focus it usually needs, relax and become more curious. Our eyes adjust and they send calmer, softer signals to the brain. Being in that state of mind helps us to be more creative due to the natural stimulus demanding less. Creativity creates new ideas, inspires better ways of working and helps people to relax.

3. Focus and Productivity - Studies from the University of Michigan have shown that nature is scientifically proven to improve our ability to focus and be productive! Being deeply immersed in nature e.g. in a forest or at the beach has significantly more benefits than a town-based walk or a view of a cityscape.

4. Healing - Being in nature actually helps us to heal both physically and emotionally. Professor Roger Ulrich from a University in Texas did a study based on recovery from surgery in hospital. He monitored people's rates of recovery and how nature would affect that. He found that depending on where people's beds were placed greatly impacting on rates of recovery and that those with a view of nature (compared with a view of the ward or a wall) recovered much quicker.

5. Stress - Now the biggest reason for absence from work according to the Health and Safety Executive. Well, nature can help there too! Research published in the Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine journal has shown that being in nature, specifically in forests, reduces the cortisol levels in our brain (our stress hormone) and can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. With 12% of staff absence due to mental health problems this is something we can no longer ignore.

6. Fun! - Of course being outside is fun! It's a natural playground, it creates childlike wonder. When was the last time you toasted a marshmallow! We do it EVERY DAY on my team away days! Having fun is actually a fundamental key to happiness. How does building dens, swinging on ropes and making kazoos in the woods sound!? A whole load of endorphins (feel good hormones) flood the brain helping you feel lighter and more relaxed.

Nature helps us be creative, resilient, inspired, relaxed, excited, engaged. I work therapeutically outdoors so you can experience all of that whilst working on boosting your self-belief, healing negative doubts, increasing your confidence and getting unstuck too. I work with people who feel stressed out and burnt out and I also work with people who have goals and ambitions and want to live their life with sparkle and zest.

Please get in touch if you think I can help you or your team.

Keep in touch? I have a free Facebook Group Wellbeing and Wellies, you'd be more than welcome to join.