Mental ill-health among PhD students has been acknowledged for years, with little improvement despite various wellbeing initiatives. And this last year, with the significant impact of Corona virus on our research and lives more broadly, this trend of poor mental health is unlikely to change.

However, with lockdown regulations being in force to varying degrees over the last year, going outdoors was consistently encouraged due to reduced transmission possibilities. Not only is there a lower likelihood of spreading COVID-19, access to green space has long been noted as a mitigating factor in mental health. So much so, that this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (May 10th-16th) is dedicated to benefits of nature on the UK population’s mental wellbeing. So below I’ve included some suggestions on how to use nature’s healing powers to improve welling and mental health.

Outdoor activities

Going on a walk outside is one of the simplest ways to access green space and improve health through nature. But I don’t know about y’all but I am looking for some new, alternative ways to enjoy the outdoors to keep me motivated.

Foraging– Whether it is for flowers or edible plants, foraging can be a fun endeavour that actively draws your attention to nature and away from distraction. With seasonal variation, foraging is a new experience each time you go out and explore. Just remember to follow simple guideline to protect environmental sustainability (more info here: https://naturemakesusbetter.co.uk/foraging/)

Wild swimming– Ok, it may be absolutely freezing, but even just dipping your toes in the water or a brief dunk can be a novel and refreshing way to enjoy the outdoors. Visiting waterways and coastal environments has long been associated with relaxation and rejuvenation, and wild swimming has the added mental health benefit of getting your body moving.

Star gazing– Enjoying the outdoors is not limited to daytime! Looking at the stars can be a great way to embrace nature with little movement required. And being outwith working hours, it can be a great way to access nature without eating into your busy day.

Access in the city

For those of us residing in more urban environments, the recommendation to get out into nature may sometimes feel impossible without the countryside on our doorstep. However, you don’t need to be in the middle of a forest to feel the positive effects of natural stimuli.

Options to improve mental health in a city environment include:

  • Visiting local parks (green space doesn’t have to be wilderness to be beneficial)
  • Setting up home work space with an outdoor view
  • Growing plants indoors

In conclusion:

By no means is going outside a cure-all for the poor mental health symptoms experienced by post-graduate students. Change from higher-up in academic institutions is required to ultimately address the culture of research. However, outwith this overhaul, we can all act in small ways to improve our mental wellbeing during the PhD process. Going outside is cost-free option to practice self-care, and with Covid restrictions slowly lifting, outdoor spaces are likely to be the safest choice to socialise with larger numbers of friends. So get outdoors, by yourself or with others, exercising or remaining still, in the wilderness or in the park