Mental Health Awareness Week in the Chilterns

Mental Health Awareness Week in the Chilterns

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from 15th to 21st May, is anxiety – a normal emotion, but one that can become a mental health problem if it becomes frequent and overwhelming.

These days we’re often exposed to multiple pressures such as busy schedules, worries about money or in jobs or at school, and little time to relax and decompress, and these can cause anxiety.

The Chilterns countryside offers stunning landscapes with rolling hills, ancient woodlands and hedgerows and 2000km of rights of way to explore, plus nature reserves and opportunities for volunteering and connecting with wildlife and plant life. We’ve put together some ideas for ways you can help look after both body and mind and spend time in green space to relax, and help look after your mental health.

The benefits of greenspace for mental health

According to a report on the Mental Health Foundation website, spending time in green spaces is linked to improved life satisfaction, reduced anxiety and increased happiness Contact with nature generates an increase in positive emotions and feelings of vitality, and a decrease in negative emotions; it also provides relief of from mental tiredness, and an improvement in our attention span).

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1. Walking

Coming up from 20th May, the Chilterns Walking Festival offers many opportunities for guided walks , long or short, including some walks with a focus on relaxation or mindfulness.

Look after your body and mind

Relax your body, or improve your physical senses, and the mind will follow. Here are a couple of unusual experiences in the walking festival.

The Barefoot Sensory Walk on 28th May is a chance to experience walking barefoot in nature with an experienced guide. You’ll be invited to feel the difference between the various terrains in the woods with no pressure – you can put your shoes back on or wear minimalist shoes (shoes which a thin sole which lets your feel more of the ground’s variability than thick soled, cushioned footwear).  What a wonderful way to be mindful of your sensations through the feet.

The Foot Therapy Workshop takes place on 4th June. You’ll only walk a mile with a mindful walking specialist Isabelle Brough, and then you’ll lie down in the grass to do some foot exercises- you’ll be asked to bring a mat or towel so you can lie down, and a thick book to rest your shoulders and head on and relax your spine.

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Wildlife Watching:

Some studies have shown that activities involving observing and interacting with wildlife in their natural habitat, such as watching birds in a garden, can improve people’s feelings of wellbeing, relaxation, and connection to nature.

The Goring Scenic Circuit on 29th May will get you up rather early (6am) but this is a fantastic chance to spend time with the ‘bird whisperer’ Steve Gozdz who’ll help you spot so kingfishers and many other birds, invertebrates and other wildlife. You’ll experience the beautiful river Thames at a time when few people are about, and then to go in search of woodland, hedgerow and field birds and into gorgeous Hartslock Nature Reserve.

Butterflies, Badgers and Bees on 21st May is a walk led by Dadima’s CIC Chilterns based walking group and our very own CEO Elaine King. You’ll discover some very special wildlife-rich habitats on this lovely scenic walk around Bradenham meadows, and you’ll look out for butterflies, bees and signs of badger activity.

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Image: Vincent Van Zalinge (unsplash)

Based in Reading and don’t have a car? Join walking guide and naturalist Adrian Lawson for a 7 mile Birdsong and Wildflowers of Spring Walk on 21st May, starting at Pangbourne Station.

You’ll take in the Thames path and Hartslock nature reserve before heading east to Path Hill farm for a stop for lunch, where you’ll light a fire and enjoy a hot drink.

Then you’ll walk back to Reading along the Thames path via Mapledurham. The orchids are out at Hartslock at the moment including the rare hybrid Lady Monkey orchid – don’t miss it!

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An orchid at Hartslock nature reserve, by Denise Harper

Walks at special times of day

Take the Bradenham Woods Sunset Walk with Boondock Events on May 24th at 6pm. Dusk is a wonderful time to explore secret bunkers, bronze age earthworks and hear about the history of the area on a two hour walk.

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Not available for the Walking Festival?

Visit our Nature for health page with walking groups you can join on a regular basis, and other ideas for activities and places to explore nature and wildlife if you prefer to go solo. Do also use our Chilterns interactive map to find a walk or ride near you.

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2. Give Back

Volunteering helps you feel part of something greater than yourself, helps you contribute something positive to the worlds, and can be a great way to combat loneliness and isolation. Pro-social and altruistic behaviours like volunteering can be a boost for mood and have been consistently shown to improve mental well being.

If you’re not able to leave the house at the moment there are hundreds of charities that need help in a virtual capacity – writing content, updating social media and can all be done from the safety of your own home.

3. Nature-based wellbeing courses and groups

Lindengate centre exists entirely to improve people’s mental health, physical health and wellbeing through the provision of nature based activities including horticulture, gardening, conservation, heritage skills and woodworking.

For those that are struggling with mild to moderate depression, low mood, anxiety or stress or are struggling to return to work after a period of sick leave, Lindengate offers a 12 week wellbeing course – the next runs from 7th June to 23rd August. You’ll be in a small group of 6 people and you can take part in seasonal nature based activities, including conservation, kitchen & formal gardening and nature based crafts and arts, with support for building your resilience and maintaining positive wellbeing.

Dudes and Dogs provides a group for men to walk together and a safe space to talk and discuss mental health issues, with no pressure. (link)

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Path Hill Outdoors at Goring Heath is a skilled team of outdoor educators and bushcraft leaders who work with young people who find the classroom environment a challenge. Working with people living with trauma, anxiety disorders or those on the autistic spectrum, they run a pre-school group, family camps, activities for schools and community groups. Get in touch if you feel your school, community group or family would benefit.

They also run Path Hill Adventures, bookable activities for adults’ wellbeing such as a wild women’s group, slow stitching outdoors, outdoor cooking and forest bathing, plus experiences for families.

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The Chiltern Society are offering Forest Bathing sessions on 25th June and 15th July at Captains Wood. This is an enjoyable and restorative nature-based wellbeing practice that can help you can help you quiet your mind, relax deeply, boost your body’s natural defences, sleep better and much more. Suitable for adults from 18+

4. Challenge yourself

The Chilterns boast a number of trails of national importance, for walkers, horse riders and cyclists. The Ridgeway, Thames Path or Chiltern Way are all good options for walkers (you don’t have to do them all in one go!) while the Chilterns Cycleway is a 170-mile circular route passing all around the AONB. If pedalling up enormous hills clad in lycra doesn’t appeal though, there are plenty of off road trails and easier inclines to try. Wendover Woods has a number of family cycle trails of differing lengths, while the Phoenix trail from Princes Risborough offers a flat (former railway) 7.5km ride to Thame. For the more adventurous, Aston Hill has a regionally recognised mountain bike park featuring five graded downhill runs, a 4X track and a two-part cross-country loop with something to challenge everyone of every mountain bike discipline.

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Photo by Dave Olinski

5. Shop local

Supporting local businesses will help build your local community, which in turn will be better able to support you. Consider shopping in a community shop, farm shop or small local business rather than national or regional chains.  Explore our Shop Chilterns  pages for some ideas. Or read our blog about zero waste shops in the Chilterns.

6. Get Creative

Watch an outdoor playSour Cherry Soup

This new 45 minute one woman show tells the story of the changing landscapes and populations of the Chilterns, as well as how the history of cherries is also the history of Southern England. Written by playwright Sara Clifford, the play has been inspired by real stories of Chilterns people, gathered by Sara at creative workshops and discussions with community groups across the Chilterns. The Chalk, Cherries and Chairs Landscape partnership is thrilled to be bringing this brand-new play to a range of outdoor venues in the Chilterns this summer – join us to dive into the Chilterns in a way you may not have experienced before! BOOK HERE

There are some wonderful centres for art courses, yoga and complementary  health in tranquil Chilterns settings.

Where inspiration blooms just outside the market town of Chesham offers art classes, horticulture, pottery and wellbeing courses, some of which are family friendly (see website for details).

The Coaching Barn between Wallingford and Goring offers a similar range of courses for both adults and children.

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