Nature, work and wellbeing

A guest blog for Warwickshire Wildlife Trust

I wonder where you are reading this. Perhaps in your home office, slumped on the sofa after a long day or maybe in a queue for a shop. Wherever you are, stop. Look at what you can see around you, inside and outside. If there’s a window, here is your permission to stare out of it. Let your eyes seek out any natural greens, blues or browns in your visual field right now. If you can see a plant or a tree, grass or leaves, water or wood, a bird or bee, focus on that. Choose one thing to bring your full attention to right now. Take in the shape and textures, lightness and shadow, colours and tones. Try to explore the object of your focus as if you have never seen it before. What do you notice? Even with a brief moment of intentionally exploring nature with our senses, we can feel calmer and more present for the task in hand. 

In her beautiful book ‘Phosphorescence’, on awe and wonder in the natural world, Julia Baird cites numerous studies before concluding that “In short: When we are exposed to sunlight, trees, water or even just a view of green leaves, we become happier, healthier and stronger.” She lists findings that students, inmates and patients who could see nature from their rooms had better mental health and cognitive function than those who couldn’t. She references one study where spending just fifteen minutes in a park made students feel less stressed, and another where a seventeen-minute walk made participants feel more comfortable, relaxed, less tired, confused and anxious. 

We all know that taking regular breaks is advised during the working day, but it seems that breaks where we engage with nature not only boost our wellbeing but the work we do.  How often do we do this though? I know I still get caught in believing that taking a short walk or sitting in the garden to eat my lunch will make me less productive. However, this is clearly not the case. We should not only take our breaks in nature but also meet with colleagues outdoors, in person or on the phone.

In their review of experiments on this theme, researchers Jo, Song and Miyazaki list many studies where exposure to natural environments and elements such as flowers, green plants or wooden materials aidsrelaxation and improves immunity. They also cite numerous studies showing the positive effects of exposure to natural environments through a display or projector. This proves what we’ve known for a while – the mind is incredibly powerful, and incredibly gullible. See what happens now when I invite you to imagine biting into a lemon. Our body reacts as if it is actually biting into one. I know I salivate and wince even writing that. This shows that we can feel the benefits of nature even if we don’t have direct access to it. We can put photos of nature in our office spaces, or look at pictures of places we’ve been or would like to go. 

I bring this idea into my free weekly Midday Calm sessions attended by people who are right in the middle of their busy day. I admire them making the time to attend but I know it may be in lieu of getting outside during the working day. So I guide people through an imagined walk through their favourite woods, or a mountain meditation where we bring to mind the image and qualities of a mountain they know well or one of their imagination. 

Similarly in my workplace wellbeing sessions, I invite people to think of one small thing they can do to boost their wellbeing. Overwhelmingly, it involves connecting with nature. Even if it’s just as one participant suggested, “putting your face in the sun for five minutes whilst waiting for the kettle to boil between meetings”. Or giving yourself permission to gaze out that window and not reprimand yourself for daydreaming or procrastinating. Allow yourself to engage fully with your senses and drink in the snippets of nature you can see. 

Having said all that, as a Wellbeing Coach, I am fully aware that simply knowing what’s good for us doesn’t necessarily mean we will do it. Information doesn’t promote action. If you want to set a goal around bringing more nature into your life to boost your wellbeing and your work, it has to be both a realistic and meaningful goal for you. 

Just like Emma Mitchell describes how she purposefully created a significant shift in her mood in the April chapter of ‘The Wild Remedy’, her powerfully vulnerable and inspiring book about the healing impact of nature on mental health. After reading research about how the presence of birds can help to lift depression, she invests in a bird feeder to encourage more birds to her garden. She is motivated both by having a small project and the desire to feel better. 

Use the questions below to create a meaningful and effective goal for yourself now:

What, if anything, would you like to change? 

How would you like to bring more nature into your day? 

Where would you go? What would you do? Who, if anyone, would you do it with? Or who will you celebrate your successes with? 

What obstacles do you foresee getting in the way of you achieving this goal?

How might you overcome those obstacles? 

How important is this to you on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being very important? If you rated it lower than a 7, think about what you could do that would align more with your values. 

Why is doing this important to you? 

How confident are you to make this happen on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being very confident? If you rated yourself less than a 7, what do you need to do to bring yourself up a notch? This could involve changing the goal slightly or getting some support from others to give you more confidence.

When will you start? Once you’ve adjusted your goal and have one that is important and meaningful to you, set a date and time to start it.

I wish you well with your nature, work and wellbeing goal. Remember to bring kindness and understanding to yourself if you don’t achieve it fully or the first time you try. In fact, nature constantly reminds us that change takes time and patience, energy and experimentation. 

Katie offers wellbeing workshops for workplaces and community groups, as well as one-to-one coaching sessions to support you to set effective goals to improve your wellbeing. Midday Calm is a free 30-minute session Katie runs every Tuesday at 12.30pm to help relax and rejuvenate for the rest of the day. All welcome. www.kpwellbeing.com/workshops

References

Jo H, Song C, Miyazaki Y. Physiological Benefits of Viewing Nature: A Systematic Review of Indoor Experiments. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(23):4739. Published 2019 Nov 27. doi:10.3390/ijerph16234739

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird, 2020

The Wild Remedy, by Emma Mitchell 2019

A family holiday

Working title  ‘Happy F!@#ing Birthday

You know the days that start where none of the numbers in the time are a 6 or 7 (wouldn’t that be heaven);

From the moment you get out of bed, you try to remember the title of a book you wish you’d read (something like ‘How to talk so children listen’ I think that’s what the Park Mum said);

Only sitting down on the loo or in a car (with the soundtrack ‘More rice cracker, Mummeeeeey’ on repeat);

At the cafe, juice goes everywhere:Juicy shoes, juicy vests, juicy jumpers and juicy legs (Good thing you packed the nappy bag, just unfortunate the spare clothes are soaked from loose water bottles);

In the pub, your kid purposefully spills his juice to your left, you restrain him  in a high chair to your right, he swiftly pisses, drip drip dripping, til one of us notices  (‘that’s what grubby pub carpet is for’ cried the waitress);

Each 15kilogram spawn won’t walk and ‘Wan carry’ (confirming the lack of gym membership is still a great financial saving);

12 hours later, willing the clock to show a 6 (7 would be better), you say to your partner in crime (coz sometimes it really does feel like a punishment) ‘I think I’ll fall over if I don’t take some time’;

Then you lie with your legs up a wall, reiki hands on face, watch the thoughts and feel your breath moving in your chest and stretch in your hips; Pure bliss. (Yet you’re spending the precious time without them composing this list).

 

This one’s called The Local IGA : 

I’ve made a name for myself at the local IGA,

We’re only here for a short stay,

But I’ve been in there at least twice a day,

Slowly looking at everything on display.

Taking my time, 

Anything to avoid those children of mine. 

—- And finally to share the full spectrum:

Heart strings were pulled

As the blinds were pulled 

Down on a scene 

I wasn’t meant to have seen 

Sneaking round the back

To get my bike

I see Ezra bouncing

Dan dancing 

To a familiar tune with lyrics I’m only now hearing: 

‘Love isn’t easy, life isn’t perfect…’

(I’ve since found out it’s ‘loving is easy, everything’s perfect’; both work!)

Our Village People

In June last year, I was anxiously anticipating 8 weeks without any family support with our 3 month old twins. I didn’t know how I was going to cope without their hands on help. So I reached out. And made a Google doc

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Now out of the haze of sleep deprivation, we reflect on how grateful we are to all our village people who have contributed to keeping us all well-fed and rested, clean and burped. Not one day has gone by when we have felt alone, hungry or unsupported.

We survived those first few months purely on the goodwill of others. It’s a period of all our lives we’ll never forget for we’ve felt showered in love and generosity. Being held by so many loving arms and smiled at by so many happy faces has also been deeply enriching for our boys.

The experience has taught us how important it is to reach out for help , and that people seem to love giving time and energy to their village; It becomes a process of reciprocal benefit.

Whether you’re new parents, expecting your 5th or going through something where you could use the support of your village; don’t be ashamed to call on them. If you don’t feel you have a village; make one. I took everyone and anyone up on their offers of help. Fleeting or insistent, from friends, colleagues, people in the street or supermarket. A passing ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do’ was always met with ‘Well, actually there is….’

If you’re honest with what help you need, hopefully your Village will be honest with what they can give.

DIY Birthing Workshop

Being pregnant in Melbourne, you’re not short of birthing workshops to support you through your birth preparation. However, they’re not cheap and they’re aimed at people pregnant with one baby, hoping for ‘normal’ birth experiences. We’re on a bit of a budget, expecting twins and have been repeatedly told by that this will be a ‘medicalised’ birth, with all the interventions you can think of and a high chance of cesarean.

I was still yearning for some time with my partner to prepare, connect, meditate, share our fears and make some birth art inspired by the few birthing books which have resonated. So last weekend, we enjoyed our own agenda and timings, in our homely venue (and with our own catering!)

I’m sharing our process here, so that you can create your own birthing workshop if you want to. I do believe those run professionally are invaluable, but last weekend showed that it is possible to Do It Yourself.

How to… Create a DIY Birthing Workshop

1. Setting the scene

Diarise it: We set aside a Saturday in our diaries in advance. We treated it like we were attending a ‘real’ event, so noone could cancel or double book.

Getting on the same page: The night before, we discussed our aims for the day. This was integral, to be aware of each others expectations. For example, he wanted to start by going for brunch, I wanted to end by going for dinner; I wanted strict timings, he wanted activities to be as long or short as needed. I had read a few books and spoken to a few people about workshops they’d attended, so I had a million suggestions for activities. It was good to narrow these down into ones that resonated for both of us, and ones that met our aims.

Our shared aim was: To confirm birth plan, discuss fears and gather tools for our Birthing Toolbox

Prep work: We individually brainstormed fears as they entered our head in the 24 hours previous and brought these with us.

2. The programme

  • Brunch in a cafe nearby
  • Acceptance meditation: Discuss what came up for us in the meditation, adding any tools, reminders or affirmations to our toolbox
  • Birth art: from Birthing from Within (Pam England)
  • Fears: Share, discuss. We went through each fear explaining its origin, how likely we think it is to actually happen and what we would do if it happened.
  • Break: walk in the sun, purchase afternoon snack
  • Lunch: Leftovers at home
  • Pain meditation: From Mind the Bump app
  • Birth Plan: We followed a template and filled it in separately on white boards, then came together to discuss and finalise
  • Stressful situations: Inspired by Wellness Plans we do in my mental health job, we divided a page into 3 columns
  • You know I’m getting stressed when…
  • When I’m stressed, it helps to…
  • When I’m stressed, I like to hear… 
  • IMG_6321
  • This has become a reference point for us to use in those anticipated stressful times ahead (he even got it out the next day when I was stressed and said ‘I’ll cook!’).
  • Confirm Tools for Toolbox: Affirmations, meditations, reminder points- add to birth plan
  • Swim: We’re lucky enough to have a pool in our apartment block!
  • Dinner: At a new restaurant down the road using a voucher we’d been kindly gifted, followed by a non-birth related film and ice cream on the sofa.IMG_6250

3. The result

How I felt: Heard, connected, at peace, reassured, ready(!).

How he felt: “Together, calm, ready.”

And these feelings have remained since. Of course it doesn’t mean the fears don’t exist or the toolbox is shut not to be revisited until ‘D* day’, it’s an ongoing process. (D* for Delivery)

If you’d like to create your own birth workshop, keep asking yourselves what’s important for you to cover. Our programme came from what we as individuals wanted to explore, in ways that resonate for us (meditation, art, food!). Yours might look very different depending on your needs and exploration preferences.

 

Creating Space

It’s been a while since I last updated this website and I feel compelled to write why. Whilst writing this, I wondered whether I was making an excuse for the lack of recent blog posts, or, an explanation of future down-time. Either way, I’d like to share why it has been, and might continue to be, a little quiet on here:

I have been creating space.

Creating Wellbeing has always been about creating space. Firstly, I was driven to create a space for people to share their wellbeing stories, journeys and tools; a space I felt was so lacking in my own recovery journey. But in creating a space for others, whilst working full-time, I made no space for me. I was exhausted.

Arriving in Melbourne I knew I needed to a different tack: I was determined to turn it into my full-time job. Despite meeting all the right people, doing extensive research to conclude Melbourne is perfect for what I was offering – I kept putting it off. Blogging, flogging, pitching and furiously networking had become activities that made my heart sink rather than sing. I was exhausted at the thought.

So I reluctantly buried the 500 newly printed CWB business cards, paused the blog and found myself a job. Whilst I feel I have landed the mental health job of my dreams, I have to look deeply at my own recovery to support others with theirs. I am forced to create space for my own healing, and this is what I’ve been doing.

I began by creating space in my calendar, then environment and eventually, my mind.

It wasn’t easy at first, and a part of me still felt I’d deserted my Creating Wellbeing dream. Now I’ve come to realise that Creating Wellbeing is me, so I have pursue what Creating Wellbeing for me. Recently, it’s looked liked this:

  • I say No to some social engagements
  • I say Yes to spontaneous suggestions
  • I turn my phone off
  • I walk along the sand barefoot
  • I feel my body supported by the salt of the ocean
  • Inspired by Naomi Liddell I now block out Wednesday evenings for #MidweekMeTim
  • I meditate with the help of Headspace Ap
  • I plan little at weekends and spend lots of quality time with my partne
  • I stretch if it feels good, at home or at a local yoga studio, always practicing with Ahymsa (non-violence to body and mind)
  • I cycle as slow as I can back from work, watching the water move on the Yarra
  • I read books from the library
  • I go to the movies
  • I make simple cushion covers, rejoicing in the history and colour of the fabrics
  • I put my face in the sun
  • I look at nature blossom and change in the Botanic Gardens

So if this is what Creating Wellbeing is for me, what does Creating Wellbeing mean for the wider community for which it was originally intended? Well, I have faith this will evolve naturally, and I think it’s already started to. Mid-last year, very organically, a small Creating Wellbeing Melbourne group formed. I kept meeting people who passionately promote wellbeing and creativity in the community but needed a space to concentrate on their own creativity and wellbeing. A small group of us share the creation of that space and meet on a bi-monthly basis at one of our homes. It truly is co-created, with each of us taking a turn to organise and facilitate a session. And it is the opposite of exhausting. It’s exhilarating.

What’s Creating Wellbeing for you? The Creating Wellbeing FaceBook Group is also a space for you, me and the wider world to share thoughts and ideas and attend events together. And whilst blogging still doesn’t come naturally to me, I enjoy posting about #CreatingWellbeing to instagram.  I hope to see you there.

Creating Space and Wellbeing

How I have been Creating Wellbeing.

An adventure in self-compassion

With mindfulness, I have become aware of my default position of self-criticism in the face of adversity. Mindful In May’s week on loving kindness opened my eyes to another option and the interview with Dr Kristen Neff had a significant impact. Being human, I have had many opportunities to put this into practice since. I was inspired to write and illustrate the following:

An Adventure in Self-Compassion

An Adventure in Self-Compassion

When you miss the train, or get the wrong one

Lose your key, and can’t get in

Forget to send that email, or don’t do that all important thing

 

Simply see these, as beautiful opportunities

To reassure yourself, that you are, like so many

Experiencing a moment of suffering

 

And warp your arms around yourself

Put your hand on your heart

Like  a mother would a child

And bring as much awareness to your toes

As you would your woes

 

Lean into the discomfort,

The fire, the spikes

The fear, the dislikes

 

And have the courage to admit

When your dialogue and actions

Are no longer of benefit

 

Then feel your body relax

And get back on track.

Musings on marriage, a wedding and Bridespeople

After a special month in India full of silence, song, mindfulness, creativity, good food and generous people, I felt more than ready for the move to Melbourne.

But within the first five minutes of coming through the departure gates, two very unexpected events happened:

The first is that my partner of 6 years and friend of much longer, Dan, asked me to marry him; and the second, is that I said ’Yes’!

These were unexpected events, because I never felt I needed to mark our already very committed and long-term relationship with marriage and Dan knew this. Unlike many proposals from the love of your life, Dan’s was met with a lot of swearing whilst I grappled with an internal dialogue formed of old beliefs and thoughts: ‘Marriage is soooooo institutionalised.’ ‘But I’m a feminist!’ ‘I won’t get married until all countries legalise same-sex marriage!’ ‘Weddings are too extravagant!’

Knowing there was some trouble with the Management Committee up top (my mind), Dan refrained from going down on one knee and simply said ‘Don’t think, just feel.’ Using the tools I’d gathered on my path to wellness, I removed myself from those thoughts and got in touch with my heart. And my heart was feeling to leap in the air and shout ‘Yes!’

Whilst all the mental chatter may be subject of an interesting sociological debate, I realised I wasn’t saying Yes to an institution nor to being owned by a man nor to an extravagant wedding; I was saying Yes to Dan and to our supportive and loving relationship. In that, I was saying Yes to life and Yes to happiness.IMG_5616

We have been engaged for 6 months. Now, of course, the question of a Wedding has become subject of more musing and exploration.

Weddings

I was lucky enough last year to attended 6 weddings (including one ‘uncivil’ partnership). All were beautiful and unique celebrations of love and union. Never thinking I would be having one myself, I observed each with great intrigue and learnt a lot about the concept and celebration of marriage.

I learnt that a Wedding is a special occasion celebrating the love and commitment of two people. I saw that a wedding (usually) lasts a day and a marriage lasts a loving lifetime. The most important thing then, is what the wedding is celebrating. Whilst we will try to find a way to involve everyone we love in the occasion we celebrate our marriage (our ‘wedding’), we acknowledge it may not be geographically or financially realistic for all to attend (wherever, whenever, whatever it may be). I would hope then that the wedding is not the only opportunity for loved ones to contribute to our lives as a married couple and individuals.

Although we don’t know how, where or what this wedding of ours will be, Dan has asked three friends to be his Best Man and Ushers, which got me thinking about my equivalent.

To B or not to B…Bridespeople

From my year of learning at very diverse celebrations of love, I observed the Bridesmaid’s role is to support the Bride in the run-up to the wedding and on the day itself. I am truly blessed and beyond lucky to have a number of individuals (female and male) who, I feel, can and will support me not just before and during the occasion we celebrate our marriage but throughout the rest of my life.

I am therefore asking all of those people (along with those I am yet to contact or even meet): To be, and/or not to be my Bridespeople. Because to me, being or not being my Bridesmaid/man is the same thing; having a title is unimportant. What is important is that we continue our mutually supportive relationship free from expectation or obligation. In simply being who they are to me, they are doing what I feel Bridesmaids do.

I may ask for their help in the run-up to the wedding or on the day, or, they may request to play a specific role. Either way, I hope we both know how much strength they give me across the seas and stars without needing official roles.

 

#HappinessDay

Today, I joined people across the globe to mark International Day of Happiness, by taking to the streets of Sydney to ask ‘What makes you happy?’ and sharing the responses worldwide, with a hashtag.

Happy Signs

Happy, homemade signs

Why was I so happy to walk around with a homemade sandwich board, pipe-cleaners and crayons with a fellow Happy Hubber? Because this is exactly what Creating Wellbeing is about! Acknowledging and sharing what makes us feel Well. Calm. Balanced. Happy.

Reflecting

Such a simple activity; yet Happiness can feel like a complex and unattainable concept.

So let’s reframe the question by asking ourselves and others: What makes your busy mind calm? What helps your shoulders relax? What makes you smile? What is Happiness for you?

In Sydney people stopped us and we stopped them to reflect on Happiness in this way:

Happy people

Happy sharers on Sydney streets

Unbeknownst to our participants, the UN’s theme for today was Reclaiming Happiness. Finding Happiness in the simple, everyday things. It’s not in those new shoes, faster car or fad diet, it’s in us and in the now. But even without knowing this, everyone’s response to our question were the simple things in life:

Love. Swimming in the ocean. Friends. Ice cream. Sunshine.

Hub Happy tree

Hub’s Happy Tree

Sharing

Sharing is so important, and a crucial part of Creating Wellbeing. First asking yourself what makes you happy then asking and sharing with others. Share within and outside your comfort zone. Ask your partner, parents, colleagues and even Donny at the deli (below). Because it’s in sharing that we connect, inspire and realise we’re not alone. 

Deli Donny

Deli Donny was happy about everything

Being a slave to social media doesn’t always make me happy, as I feel it takes me away from being present. But today I stepped out of my comfort zone and into the twittersphere, hoping to capture Happiness in it’s simplest form. Surprisingly, it actually made me more present and aware of the passing moments of Happiness. Knowing I was to be sharing them with the world, made me recognise these things for myself and articulate them.

Creating Wellbeing 

With these simple and complex conversations about happiness and unhappiness, we help ourselves and each other create our individual ways to wellness.

What today showed, is that Happiness is here. Not just today but to stay. We just have to think and talk about it.