Nature Nurtures My Mental Health – by Charlotte Rose MCIEEM

After a busy week at my desk, I needed to get outdoors! I was rewarded with an encounter with a Kingfisher that left me buzzing for the rest of the day. It’s always a treat to spot this jewel of a bird – they seem so exotic! – but I was able to watch this female fishing for several minutes before we needed to move on. She seemed unbothered by us being only a few metres away across the ditch, the tiddlers she caught sparkling in the sun before being swiftly dispatched. I was in one of my favourite places – the Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes on the New Forest coast, which just seem so bursting with life, you can’t fail to leave with a grin. I was uplifted and inspired for the rest of the day. For me, this is a key reason for connecting with nature, and something I feel strongly everyone should be able to have.

But sometimes it’s hard to squeeze that time into our lives. I’m sure you can picture the scene – back-to-back Teams calls, including some scheduled over your lunch break. In the winter, the days are shorter, and nature encounters are potentially more difficult to accommodate. What should we do?

It was Time to Talk Day on the 2nd of February, when we’re encouraged to talk about mental health – whether your own personal reflections, or to raise awareness and help break the stigma: definitely something I would encourage. If you’re feeling the strain or you can’t make time to do the things you enjoy (connecting with nature for example) then talking about it

is a good first step. We covered some of this in CIEEM’s Good Working Practices document that I worked on with others a while back.

I know how important good mental health is for me and also what helps if things are starting to get to me. First up: love your lunchbreak! I have this marked clearly in my diary and will decline meetings scheduled for then if I can’t be flexible in my calendar. If it’s critical for me to be there, I often find the meeting is rescheduled.

I’ve been lucky enough in my career at Natural England to have my fair share of getting out and about, but for the last few years, my job has been largely desk-based. Whilst stimulating and motivating, I do miss getting outside, and since the pandemic, it’s all too easy to find yourself almost chained to the desk on calls. I am fighting back!

I will try and find some time each day for some form of exercise, usually a walk down to the watermeadows in Winchester where I live – exercise is one of the five ways to wellbeing. It’s also a great place to stop and notice the small details in nature – all too often we overlook the humble dunnock or fail to listen to the beautiful call of the blackbird. I marvel at them all and it helps me refocus my work and motivate me to deliver greater environmental outcomes.

Don’t get me wrong – I haven’t got it all sussed. I’ve had my struggles, and this time last year was a particularly stressful time. Looking back, I allowed my time to be dictated by other processes and people, leading to a perceived lack of control. Although I tried to find time for nature in my life, it did feel more constrained. I felt in ‘survival’ mode – reactive and not thinking strategically. I could have done more: talked to others about how I was feeling, challenged some of the demands, protected breaks and made time for walks. Despite being in a better place now, and more in control of things, this may not always be the case. It’s important to be kind to yourself and acknowledge your feelings and where things could have gone better, as well as celebrating successes.

So, join me in redoubling efforts to look after your mental health, through taking breaks, talking to people, and connecting with nature. I’m off to look for more kingfishers…

Charlotte Rose MEnvSci, MCIEEM, APMQ

Charlotte has covered a variety of roles since joining Natural England in 2008. She is now the Principal Advisor for Water and Regulation in Natural England’s Greener Farming and Fisheries Programme, leading on the strategic direction of a broad portfolio including chemicals and pesticides, water, Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM), air quality and SSSI regulation and enforcement. But she also wears another hat, leading the Well-ment Network: a volunteer-led network for NE staff focusing on mental health and wellbeing. She is a strong believer that healthy, happy colleagues can achieve much more for the natural environment and tries to lead by example.

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