Looking after yourself, looking after others and looking after the planet: is there anything more important?

Right now in New Zealand we’re celebrating Mental Health Awareness Week, but did you know there are links between mental well-being and protecting wildlife?

Here’s how.

Spending time in natural surroundings is linked to reduced stress and anxiety

1. The power of nature

Have you ever found a walk in the park has helped when you’re feeling stressed or anxious?

Well you aren’t the only one, and scientific data also backs up the idea that spending time in natural surroundings can have real benefits for your mindset.

Let’s have a look at a study from the University of British Columbia, where three groups of people were given different tasks to see how they affected their mental state:

  • Group 1 was asked to document their reactions to encountering nature – this could be something as everyday as a tree or a flock of birds.
  • Group 2 did the same, but with man-made items.
  • Group 3 did neither, acting as a control for the experiment.

Over 2,500 submissions were made, and the conclusions pointed strongly to the idea that individuals who interact with nature feel both happier and more connected to other people than those who don’t.

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2. Doing good and feeling good

The simple act of doing something meaningful and selfless (often without getting paid) is a second way that conservation can benefit mental health.

Of course, there are paid roles in conservation, but many people start as volunteers prepared to give up their time for something they believe to be important.

Here are some of the ways this contributes to mental wellbeing:

  • Happy hormones: Dedicating your free time to something you love is a great feeling, and volunteering has been linked to the release of dopamine, a hormone that creates positive feelings.
  • Find like-minded people: Conservation organisations are full of people working towards the same goals, and can be a great a place to make friends who think like you. These friends can go on to be a strong support network.
  • Grow your confidence: This is another benefit of making these connections, but also stems from the sense of purpose that conservation can give.

In addition, getting involved in conservation can open doors to opportunities you never knew existed.

‘Volontourism’ is a popular trend of travelling to volunteer in exciting places around the world. Even if you stay closer to home you may get to see reserves or sensitive areas normally closed to the public.

Getting outside to research wildlife
Conservation and research activities cause you to be active, which is positive for your mind and body

3. Sweating for the planet, and for your mind

Conservation ain’t no walk in the (national) park, trust us.

Whether you’re planting endangered Kauri trees or researching endangered Hector’s dolphins your body is working hard – and this can give you more than just a flat stomach.

Exercise releases powerful hormones called endorphins. These endorphins stimulate positive feelings throughout your body, and this is important when it comes to the associations between active lifestyles, conservation and mental health

In fact, exercising just one hour a week could help prevent 12% of future cases of depression, according to research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

And that’s not all, HelpGuide.org states that exercise can be beneficial in countering other illnesses including anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), stress and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The combinations of nature, activity and sense of purpose are just some of the benefits that conservation can have for mental health.

More important, however, is that people keep talking about mental health. The issue has gained more acknowledgement in recent years, but we’re still a long way from where we need to be.

If you’re struggling, or know someone that is, a walk and a talk can go a long way – in 2018 it’s okay not to be okay.

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