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Find out how these these Kiwis connect with nature to boost their wellbeing during Mental Health Awareness Week.
Horse-mad Jose Watson loves nothing more than going for a “hoon” on her horse along the beautiful, untouched beaches of her hometown.
Jose says getting out on her horse almost every day is essential to her wellbeing.
“For me it’s really important to feel good in myself. When something happens and I can’t go out I really miss it and start getting ants in my pants.”
She grazes her two horses Steiny and Whimmy in Hokitika on a paddock between a wild beach and a creek.
“It’s such an awesome natural area. As an adult it’s sometimes hard to get outside on a regular basis. Having horses makes you have to go outside every day because you have a living thing relying on you.”
The first thing she notices when she gets out in nature is the fresh air. “The air feels amazing and it reminds me to breathe.”
Jose always takes stock of her surroundings, noting any changes.
“I always go and check what’s happening in the environment, I can check what’s happening at the creek or see what the pukekos are doing and that’s really cool. Other times I go to the beach and warm my horse up down there.”
By focusing on the environment and observing the subtle changes in it, Jose’s mind is kept in the present moment.
This state is known as being mindful – the practice of giving your full attention to what is immediately happening within and around you. Mindfulness has been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety and to increase resilience and wellbeing.
Practising mindfulness is one of the ways the Mental Health Foundation says you can use to take care of your mental health and wellbeing.
“I might notice plants have got bigger, there’s been some erosion or something like that. If I want an experience to fill me up and to feel better, I need to go to natural places.”
Another bonus of riding every day is fitness for both Jose and her horses, but there is also a social element.
“Even though it’s not people you are connecting with you are connecting with another living thing.”
Jose, 38, who works for the Department of Conservation, got her first horse when she was 10 years old and can’t imagine a life without her horses and being in the natural environment.
“I’m just a person who likes spending time outside. I’m a pretty happy person and it helps me feel good. It’s very exhilarating and exciting to go to a beautiful place... On a horse you can be so free.
“It keeps me in a good space When you are in nature it makes you feel good and that’s a good enough reason to do it.”
There’s nothing like a good surf to get David Smale feeling restored and on top of the world.
And the sport certainly ticks off three of the Ways to Wellbeing that the Mental Health Foundation promotes to maintain mental wellness: taking notice, connecting and being active.
Exercising releases chemicals called endorphins, which are the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals. Endorphins are structurally similar to morphine, so also act as a natural painkiller.
“I have moments of exuberance and complete joy when surfing. I can have an amazing session and the thrill and enjoyment is unbeatable,” David says.
“When I luck in and the waves are pumping and I’m surfing well, I get a natural high off it.”
And that good feeling extends to after the surf has finished.
“The feeling after a good surf is epic. I have a cool after-vibe and all that endorphin stuff going on. It’s physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually satisfying.”
David, an English teacher at Westlake Boys’ High School in Auckland, has been surfing for 30 years. He started when he was 10 years old growing up in Taranaki, which is home to a number of world-class surf breaks.
Surfing keeps him connected to nature, which makes him feel good.
“Surfing has that natural connection that’s as authentically being back to nature as you can get,” he says.
“When you’re surfing, you’re in a dynamic, natural environment. You see incredible things like sunsets, sunrises, amazing light, wildlife like birds, fish and dolphins. It’s a real privilege.”
He has only positive associations with surfing. “Even though I broke my ankle badly surfing a few years ago, surfing has positive connotations. I don’t have any negative associations with it.”
It can be both a solitary and group pursuit. “I like the solitary aspect of it, being in the natural environment. It’s a retreat from your ordinary existence. But I also like the camaraderie. Going surfing with mates is fun.”
Surfing is a great way to stay fit too. “It’s the perfect type of fitness in that you don’t think about exercising when you’re doing it.”
The technical side of surfing keeps him fulfilled and is something he’s always honing. “It’s constantly interesting and challenging and something I never get bored working on.”
Surfing helps keep his mind in the moment. “I’m wholly focussed on the waves, paddling and getting into a rhythm and getting in sync with the ocean. It clears my mind.
“I associate it with getting away from things, whatever the hectic stuff in life is. It’s very relaxing and restorative.”
Like David, you can introduce any of the ways to wellbeing into your life, any time, and you will begin to feel the benefits.
Whakatōkia ngā rautaki māmā nei ki tō ao kia rongo ai koe i ngā painga.
Climbing trees, building huts, collecting tadpoles and running through the bush with friends is the stuff of childhoods from a bygone era.
These days our kids are more likely to play indoors, or maybe in playgrounds under the watchful eye of protective parents.
“Shutting our children away” has concerned childhood teacher Jan Beatson for many years.
“It really struck me that being outside is what our children in New Zealand didn’t have. They had lost their freedom.”
Nature Kindy – inspired from some Scandinavian preschools that are held almost entirely outside – was her solution to getting Kiwi kids back into nature to learn, grow, have fun and form healthy habits for a lifetime of wellbeing. Set up in 2010, Nature Kindy has spawned two more centres and five playgroups in Auckland. Jan says that the Te Whāriki curriculum is followed.
“It’s wonderful to see their absolute exhilaration of running really fast down a hill, or the joy of standing up on top of a look-out. They get huge enjoyment out there,” Jan says.
Research published by the Department of Conservation shows that if we connect with nature as children, we will turn to it later in life to find relief from stress.
“If you’ve connected with the mall or TV or food, then you’ll turn to those things when you feel down. But if outdoors is your place that’s where you will go and you will get those restorative benefits,” Jan says.
And though a Nature Kindy class might seem like one big playtime, the children are learning just as much as they would in a classroom.
“There’s nothing that you can’t do outside that you can do inside, but there’s plenty that you can’t do inside that you can do outside,” she says.
“If you’re inside you can’t kick a ball, you can’t run fast and you can’t throw things. But if you’re outside you can do art and music and stories.”
Numeracy, literacy and creativity come naturally in nature.
“The kids have got to find their own things to do, as we don’t take toys. So if want to build something, they have to go off and find their sticks and measure things for themselves.”
More importantly, the children learn crucial life skills outside, including problem-solving, managing fear, risks and challenges and developing resilience.
“We’ll talk them through things but they have to work it out for themselves – we want them to use their own judgement to manage fear and uncertainty. So if they want to climb a tree and get stuck, we won’t get them down. Then, they might practise and practise until they can go up higher.”
Children are also allowed to roam freely within generous boundaries to develop independence, discover their own limits and overcome adversity. And dealing with the elements provides great lessons in coping strategies.
“If it’s raining, we just put on raincoats and go out. In life, not everything goes right and sometimes you just have to keep trying until you do get it right.”
Of course safety is still paramount, Jan adds, but involves including the children in taking responsibility for it.
“We get them to talk about what they have to look out for, like, if it’s raining the track might be slippery, so they put their own strategy in place to manage that.”
Thomas and Mahrukh Stazyk know very well how connecting with nature can benefit a person’s wellbeing – so much so they decided to do something creative with the idea.
In 2003, the former accountants bought a 24ha farm in Araparera, an hour north of Auckland overlooking the Kaipara harbour.
Their original thoughts were to have a space where people from diverse backgrounds could come together to share ideas and learn from each other, so they named the property CUE Haven. The “CUE” stands for Cultivating Understanding and Enlightenment
Over the years, the couple was becoming increasingly concerned about the decimation of the natural environment due to increasing property development and, in 2007, decided to restore the property back to native forest.
“Auckland still has green spaces but with all the development, those spaces are disappearing. We don’t want Auckland to become like other big cities around the world,” says Mahrukh, who was born in India.
“Thomas and I have always spent time in nature, therefore it came naturally to us to create something like this.’’
They have enlisted the help of volunteers to transform the area. To date over 3,000 volunteers from school, community and corporate groups have planted more than 151,000 native trees and built almost 4km of walking tracks and boardwalks.
“We are so grateful for all the people who have volunteered their time,” says Thomas, who comes from the US.
The couple love seeing the joy planting trees and helping with the project brings to the volunteers, especially to those who haven’t spent much time in nature.
“It gives them confidence and a sense of creating something that will be around for a while, something bigger than them. It’s relaxing, educational and they get a real sense of achievement,” Thomas says.
The couple are in agreement that the benefits of being involved in CUE Haven align with the Mental Health Foundation’s Ways to Wellbeing – connect, give, take notice, keep learning and be active.
CUE Haven also allows people to plant memorial trees for loved ones who have passed away.
“It’s been so rewarding for us to see people gain a sense of closure after planting a tree. Nature has been very therapeutic for grieving people,” Mahrukh says.
“To us it’s a wonderful place to unwind and to just be, to be quiet, to listen, to talk. It invigorates you and enables you to recharge. We are hoping to create an experience like that for other people.”
The couple plans to covenant the restored property with the QEII Open Spaces Trust and eventually gift it to the community to enjoy in perpetuity.
“We hope CUE Haven will be a space for people to go to chill out. People need somewhere to go where it’s quiet and peaceful. Where they can hear the birds and be still and be in the moment.”
You may find bees buzzing, butterflies fluttering, native seedlings thriving and veges growing in rural settings or your garden but these beautiful spaces are also popping up among hundreds of Enviroschools schools around the country.
In this technology-filled age where kids can lose touch with nature, getting outside and involved in their surroundings is good for them on many levels, says Michelle Ducat, an Enviroschools facilitator in the Hutt Valley.
Enviroschools include early childhood learning centres and primary schools through to high schools. There are close to 1000 New Zealand schools participating in the programme with about 250,000 people involved.
“We talk about learning in the environment, learning about the environment and taking action for the environment,” Michelle says.
“We know there’s really positive things that can happen from the constant exposure and revisiting of natural places. Research shows that kids who have lots of regular opportunities to get out and revisit places in nature have positive impacts on their wellbeing.”
Many studies show the positive links between direct experiences in nature and children’s mental, emotional and physical health and wellbeing, as reported by the Department of Conservation’s document Benefits of connecting children with nature.
Kids getting out in nature can increase self-esteem and resilience against stress and adversity, as well as improve concentration, learning, creativity, cognitive development, cooperation, flexibility and self-awareness. It can also prevent childhood obesity.
Of course, it really helps that once encouraged, most kids just love getting physical and being outdoors, whether it’s in their school environment or on field trips.
“It’s meeting that natural urge to learn and explore,” Michelle says. “Some kids approach nature a bit slowly sometimes but their excitement overcomes a fear about insects or mud. Then, there’s an amazing sense of confidence and pride in what they’ve done.”
Growing, preparing and cooking veges, native tree planting, building bird sanctuaries and waste reduction projects are some of the Enviroschool activities the kids get involved in.
“Enviroschools are about supporting our tamariki to be sustainability leaders of the future and our schools and early childhood centres to be sustainable communities,” Michelle says.
Creating beautiful spaces and connecting to the earth teaches kids about teamwork and how to learn from each other.
“I recently worked with a school where the kids created a bee and butterfly garden. It’s such a delightful and beautiful place to be and they were so proud of what they’d added to the school.
“The feedback I get from parents is that the children are so excited to be part of this. It’s wonderful to see how happy it makes them.”
Turning her face to the sun and feeling the wind in her hair and sand between her toes is the therapy Debra Wallace gives herself most days – and also the remedy she recommends to those she counsels as a marriage and family therapist.
The beach and native bush on the beautiful island of Waiheke near Auckland is where she turns to process her emotions, reframe any negative thoughts, and also get the exercise her body needs.
Nature is also where her family spends time together to play and take time out.
Her love of nature as body and soul food began when Debra was 17, after her mother was diagnosed with severe depression. Looking after her mum was challenging and took its toll emotionally on Debra, who began to realise she herself was down a deep, black hole.
“From reading handouts on depression from my mother’s therapist, I realised that I too was suffering. This provided relief because I finally identified the problem and could learn new skills to solve it.”
After just a few counselling sessions, Debra quickly learned that actions speak louder than words and committed herself to making daily changes, such as running. Exercising outside lifted her mood and allowed her to take control of her life – outrunning the symptoms of depression.
“The landscapes have changed from running around a small pond as a teen to hikes with my kids now. Each excursion melts away stress and reminds me how sacred life is.”
Being active is one of the Mental Health Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing. Introducing any of the five ways into your life, has been shown to improve mental wellbeing.
Knowing the value of self-care was essential in Debra’s training as a family therapist in her native America, and became critical after having a traumatic birth with her first child, miscarriages and stillbirth.
“Recovering from these was actually easier because I was aware of the symptoms and could rely on my healing rituals, skills and support network to process the negativity.”
The turning point in her recovery from post-natal depression and grief came when she again took refuge in nature and exercise.
“Biking, yoga, hiking and mindfulness were some of my main ways of processing. When I couldn’t go outside, I would visualise scenes from my favourite hikes.”
Mindfulness, the practice of being in the present moment, has also been shown to help decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression and increase wellbeing.
Debra’s experience of recovering and thriving from her experiences with depression has been invaluable in working with her clients, which include couples and families in emotional crisis, as well as young people dealing with low self-esteem, family conflict or problems in school.
“Connecting to nature has been the closest quick fix that I have found as it nourishes my wellbeing. The best part is that… it’s free. “
The silhouette of Mt Pureora rises majestically from Ngati Rereahu land in the central North Island. It overlooks the Pureora Forest Park, which straddles the Hauhungaroa and Rangitoto ranges between Lake Taupo and Te Kuiti.
According to Maori legend, the mountain is in the centre of the fish Maui, which represents the North Island. On its slopes, the 78,000ha Pureora Forest Park, with its native bush and birdlife, is surrounded by exotic forests and farmland, including the 5,500ha Maraeroa C Incorporation pine forest.
Mt Pureora is a sacred place to Ngati Rereahu, who have honoured the abundance of food and medicinal plants that have nourished its people and neighbouring tribes for centuries.
“It was our food cupboard, our kapata kai,” Glen Katu says.
Glen is Chief Executive of Pa Harakeke, an ecotourism and adventure company owned and operated by Maraeroa C Incorporation, a Ngati Rereahu land corporation.
These days about 9,000 visitors – trampers, cyclists, bird watchers and eco-cultural enthusiasts from New Zealand and around the world – visit the park every year, with about 2000 of them coming through the Pa Harakeke visitor centre.
Glen says they come because of the pristine bush, the bountiful bird life, the pure, clear air and to experience the rich Maori culture, heritage and hospitality.
“We love to bring people here and share this taonga. Everyone enjoys the moment and leaves with a sense of enrichment and happiness.”
Mountain bikers and trampers of every age choose to ride or walk the Timber Trail, which winds its way through the Pureroa National Park. The 85km trail was built three years ago and is being talked about as one of the “bucket list rides” by many people.
It’s a fun ride, Glen says, but aside from the physical challenges, there’s something about being in touch with nature that visitors love.
“People who come here say they just can’t get over the serenity and beauty of the forest – that and the birdlife. There’s kind of a soul feeling about being in a place where you can still enjoy wildlife – you may even get to see a wild pig or wild deer on your journey.”
A deep love and nurturing of the land is elemental within Maori culture, as taught by the ancestor Rereahu, and handed down to the current generation of Ngati Rereahu.
“Rereahu was a peaceful person and had an immense knowledge about plants and animals, which fed and nurtured our people,” Glen says.
“He was all about sustainability and caring for the land. The Maori proverb which encapsulates this is, ‘Toitu te whenua, Toitu te Iwi’, which translates as ‘Care for the land and the people will be cared for’.”
Those who come to Pa Harakeke also have the opportunity to get involved in preserving the beauty of the natural environment by planting a tree.
“They can choose a native plant from our nursery and plant it out on the estate.”
When people return, they can track the growth of the tree they planted by locating it via GPS, and then zooming in on it through Google Earth.
Using a wheelchair hasn’t stopped Merle Bradley going snorkelling or getting out into the rugged West Coast bush.
The 60-year-old nature-lover was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2014 but that hasn’t stopped her going into nature and doing what she loves.
“I’m still doing something I love. I thought my mental health would go downhill after my diagnosis, but it hasn’t because I can get out and about,” she says.
People with chronic physical conditions generally do experience a higher prevalence of mental disorders compared with people without physical conditions. So Merle is thankful she can counter that with her outdoor activities.
Central to her ability to get out in nature is her specially designed all-terrain wheelchair.
“I was so excited when I got it because I knew it would revolutionise my life. It meant I could get out and about every week and be able to go out into rough terrain.”
The wheelchair, designed by Greytown engineer Peter Thompson, allows Merle to tackle just about any terrain, including the Abel Tasman Coast Track.
Earlier this year, Merle traversed the track for two days as part of a trial by the Department of Conservation to make tracks more accessible for the disabled. She completed two days of the track, with help from family and friends, who used harnesses and ropes to assist her through the more difficult parts.
Merle, who lives in Hokitika but is originally from South Africa, says it’s important when you are disabled not to be cooped up in a room or institution watching TV.
“Just to be outside listening to the birds, having a sense of achievement and the fun of tramping is an incredible feeling. I’m still doing something I love. My life can continue, I can still see the trees and watch the birds.”
After her diagnosis, Merle was told she had between two and 10 years to live. So the former primary school teacher and her husband embarked on a six-month holiday around the world.
“I wanted to go travelling while I could still walk, before I knew I would be confined to a wheelchair.”
After she returned, she got her all-terrain wheelchair and has never looked back.
While on holiday in Rarotonga this year, Merle was able to get onto the beach thanks to her special wheelchair.
“I put on bigger tyres so I could get over the beach. I could go up to the water’s edge, then stand up with the help of my husband and then go snorkelling. To get out into nature like that was so exciting.”
She is keen to spread the word to other people with disabilities about the benefits of all-terrain wheelchairs to the disabled.
“Before I got my all-terrain wheelchair I thought I would never be able to do things like going to the beach, but I actually can.’’
Rolling down a hill with glee – just because it’s there – is something you might expect from a small child.
So when Estella Lee saw a fellow adult from China doing just that when she took them to Auckland’s Michael Joseph Savage Memorial, she laughed and laughed with delight.
“Chinese people are in the mindset that their mood is very much related to their environment,” says the former travel guide.
“So when they come to New Zealand and see a big piece of lawn, they will be very, very, very happy, just like little kids!”
There’s mounting evidence that connecting with nature has a positive impact on a person’s mental health, according to Dr Mardie Townsend, honorary professor at the School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University.
Dr Townsend tells Psychiatry Advisor that “[Connecting with nature] is associated with reduced levels of stress, which also has huge ramifications for physical health, reduced levels of depression and anxiety, increased resilience, increased engagement with learning for children and adolescents otherwise disengaged from the education system, improved self-esteem and increased capacity to engage socially.”
These days, Estella is the chair and operator of the Chinese Conservation Education Trust (CCET), a charity she co-founded with the Department of Conservation in 2002.
The trust takes Chinese people living in the Auckland area out into nature to foster a love and understanding of New Zealand’s beautiful spaces, plants and animals.
One of the reasons the trust was set up was to educate Chinese people immigrating to New Zealand that they couldn’t bring fresh produce or plant medicines into the country with them. That idea extended into nature tours to explain the effects of pollution on flora and fauna and air and water.
Estella’s passion has been invaluable in her delivering the message of protecting the environment.
“I know how to deliver the message to people because I have the love of nature myself. So I can deliver my feelings to that, and tell Chinese people why we have to protect nature, and why is it so valuable.”
Some trips have included taking people out to the bush to learn about the natural environment, and visiting beaches at low tide to look at marine animals, Estella says.
“Each ecology system is different and New Zealand is a very unique place. It’s got a lot of different plants and animals and we need to protect them because once they’re gone, they’re gone.”
The tours are very popular, with everyone attending wanting to come back again and again.
Although the CCET is no longer funded by DOC, Estella is determined to keep it running on donations and grants because of the vast benefits she sees in Chinese people connecting to nature, and enhancing their wellbeing.
“I still want to sustain this trust because it is important as a bridge between the mainstream and the Chinese, and it’s also important to the wider world because those Chinese who have learnt will take their knowledge back to their place of origin.”
Gardening has always been viewed as nature’s therapy: Getting your hands dirty often seems to melt your worries away, leaving you feeling invigorated and satisfied.
Social and therapeutic horticulture (STH) is a method used by occupational therapists and other health professionals to harness nature’s healing properties.
Research shows that STH promotes social acceptance and wellbeing for people with mental health, social and physical problems.
That’s why Whanganui District Health Board (WDHB) regional mental health unit, Stanford House, has introduced STH for its residents. They can often be found tending their fruit and vegetables in the unit’s garden.
WDHB mental health support worker Richard Hemingway says most of the residents (many of whom will spend their lives at the facility), get involved in planting, weeding, pruning, harvesting and cooking the produce they’ve grown.
In the secure part of the unit, a beautiful rose garden flourishes, bringing a bright spot of beauty to their environment. Richard says the idea of extending STH at Stanford House came to him about five years ago.
Mulling over the future of the garden there, he thought STH could play an important role for the garden and the residents. With the support of all staff, he began using gardening as a therapy for residents.
Happiness and wellbeing are just a couple of the benefits Richard sees in the residents he gardens with. Movement, exercise, planning and safety skills are additional benefits they gain, he says.
“Gardening increases their confidence. For some residents, the one-on-one time we have reignites memories of spending time with their parents or grandparents.”
“I have a client who says to me: ‘Richard, it’s time to mow the lawns… so he gets the lawnmower out and starts mowing’.”
A greenhouse is being built at Stanford House to help the residents increase the number and type of seedlings they plant.
“We have three Pasifika clients who are trying to grow taro,” says Richard. “We’ll know hopefully in a couple of months if it’s been successful.
“Growing enough fruit and vegetables to be self-sufficient is our goal, as is increasing patient wellbeing. It’s all part of the humanitarian and respect-driven culture of Stanford House.
“We’ve had people from Capital Coast and Northland DHBs come to see what we’re all about. I know it sounds like we’re blowing our own trumpet, but there is something different about the way we work with our Stanford House residents.”
Connection with the land is intrinsic to the relationship Māori have with themselves – it transmutes to their culture, spirit, and wellbeing.
Strengthening the bond between Māori and their tribal land is one of the roles of DOC worker Rob “Pa” McGowan, an ecologist working on the preservation of covenanted land all over New Zealand.
Rob, who is Pākehā, also teaches courses in rongoā – traditional Māori medicine.
“It’s not just about beautifying the land, it’s also about beautifying the people. We want to celebrate our belonging to the landscape,” says Rob, a former priest.
Māori culture grew out of the people’s first encounter with land, and if they lose that connection they will lose their culture and identity, he says.
“In the 21st century, about 750,000 Māori are urbanised and living away from their home areas. If the branch has fallen off the tree, it becomes driftwood and drifts away.”
Showing people rongoā is helping them get back to nature, a connection that grows their spiritual and physical health.
“Traditional Māori medicine isn’t just about plants – it’s spiritual, our wairua. Unless you can heal the spirit, nothing else works. You can’t cure diabetes with plants, but you can deal with situations to get the person to see a better life.”
A session with Rob in nature, which often begins with a karakia, can be a turning point for people.
“So many things come together for people when you take them into a special place in the bush. For a while, you can put away troubles and the buzzing in your head and live in moment.”
The practice of being in the moment – or mindfulness – has been shown to increase calmness, reduce stress and improve focus and attention. It’s one of the ways the Mental Health Foundation promotes to help people stay well.
“People get a glimpse into another dimension that may enrich their way of living. The response within them can be quite startling and their lives become profoundly different. Suddenly, they feel they’re at home.”
Ancestral memories are often awakened for many during these experiences, he says.
“It’s a time to remember people, parents, teachers and role models in life. That’s a very spiritual thing. It opens people up, which is when you can start to teach them.”
“Everything’s nice when the sun is shining, but when the going gets tough, there’s not much to fall back on. With loving the land, people can find the support and strength they need to cope with the cloudy days.”
If someone had told Jenni Chambers that she would take up running later in life, she probably would have fallen about laughing.
But running was just one of life’s surprises, which also included becoming a mother to four beautiful children and raising them alone on Waiheke Island near Auckland.
A series of major life changes about 10 years ago, including moving to a remote area, a relationship breakdown and then taking sole charge of her brood of four small children, initially led Jenni to become isolated, exhausted and desperate.
“I was at home with three toddlers and scared to take them anywhere. I was not coping very well with myself, let alone the kids. It was terrifying. I looked at myself, asked myself what was going on and tried to fix the problem. But I couldn’t. I came to the conclusion I was depressed.”
Medication helped for a little while, but a side effect of weight gain caused its own problem for Jenni. “Being fat me made more depressed than ever, and then I became depressed because I was depressed.”
Determined to lift her mood, Jenni started looking or other options and joined a gym.
“I wanted to feel better about myself. I didn’t see too much difference physically, but I noticed the exercise helped keep the black dog at bay.”
One of the Mental Health Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing is Be Active. Exercising has been proven to help make you feel good, both physically and mentally.
As she got fitter, Jenni found herself wanting to run, and spent a lot of time on the treadmill.
When her gym membership expired, she was drawn to a “Wild Woman” fitness group, which trained by running through bush trails.
“I found myself doing things I’d never done, and getting better and better.”
Over time she felt the urge to run solo and, after training with her group, would hit her local bush trails alone.
“I enjoyed the exercise more in the environment, rather than running around the streets or being in the gym,” she says.
Listening to the sound of her footsteps and breathing, undistracted by music from headphones, and truly being in the moment, weaved a healing magic for Jenni.
“There’s such a clarity to being out there in the bush, you couldn’t get purer air to breathe and mentally, well, you don’t have to worry about anything.”
Feeling great by exercising in nature inspired Jenni to enter a marathon. “I thought, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to run a full marathon – 42 km.”
Being active in nature is now an important tool Jenni can use to manage her depression, along with counselling, natural therapies and a good support network of family and friends.
“I found that exercise was the key and running in the bush will be forever my go-to. I’ll always be drawn to it.”
Auckland Aces captain Rob Nicol was absolutely stoked to be voted last year's grand prize winner of the Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 photography challenge.
The 33-year-old, who played more than 45 games for the Black Caps, won a $300 Asics voucher for a photo of him and his father holding hands when Rob was a little boy.
The photo was taken on Rakino Island in the Hauraki Gulf when Rob was about two-years-old.
“It’s very, very cool to have won. My mum gave me the photo and it sits on my mantel piece. I really like it because it gives me good memories. It shows dad loves me and reminds me to be like that for my two boys.”
Rob initially won some green wind chimes for the photo during the Photo-a-Day Challenge (the theme that day was “something old”). The public then voted for the best of the 16 daily winners from the challenge and Rob was voted the grand prize winner.
And Rob wasn't the only one thrilled with his winning ways – one-year-old son Nate was intrigued by the green wind chimes.
“Every night when I got home we went on the porch where they’re hanging and had a tinkle with them then went and did his bath. He likes that they make a sound and he can pull the weighted part at the bottom – he’s quite a tactile kid.”
MHAW sparks conversations about mental health
Rob says MHAW sparked some interesting conversations about mental health with his Auckland Aces team mates.
“MHAW is really great because it gets people talking about mental health and how they’re feeling. It’s helpful in terms of raising awareness and knowing it’s OK to say, ‘I’m not feeling great’.”
He says there’s more awareness now about mental health issues for cricketers than there has been in the past.
“We have workshops around mental health and learning the signs of depression and anxiety and how to deal with stress… you don’t have to feel guilty or be a big macho guy who doesn’t show his feelings.
“We talk about mental health and make sure everybody’s in the right place and if not we help send them in the right direction to get help.”
Team mates support Movember
Last year, Rob and his team mates threw their support behind Movember by growing moustaches, although Rob had a good head start with his already impressive facial hair.
The team also challenged local community cricket clubs to grow moustaches, and painted a large, white moustache on their training ground at Eden Park.
“Everybody’s keen as and into it which is great.”
Richard Smith and his colleagues were super excited about ditching their desks and heading outside for some fresh air during 2016's MHAW Lockout.
“Everybody was really excited. We spend eight or more hours a day in the office on our computers and phones, so it was really awesome to have the chance to get outside and connect with nature – and each other,” Richard says.
The Mental Health Foundation held the nationwide lockout to encourage Kiwis to head outside for an hour to connect with nature for good mental health and wellbeing.
The lockout ran from 12–1pm, and fell on World Mental Health Day. Mental Health Awareness Week ran from 10–16 October.
Richard, who is Head of Consumer at recruitment firm Gaulter Russell, says he and his colleagues headed to Auckland Domain for the lockout and had a shared lunch.
“We let all our clients know we were shutting down and encouraged everybody to do the same.
“It was so fantastic to head outside with a singular purpose and to be present and in the moment. And it was a great chance for us to all bond and bring awareness to good mental health.”
Mental health as important as physical health
Richard says it’s important for people to take care of their mental health, just as they would their physical health.
“A lot of time and effort is dedicated to physical health, but it’s equally important, if not more so, to have a healthy mind, in addition to a healthy body.”
Mental health and wellbeing is something Richard is passionate about as he lost his brother to suicide 10 years ago.
“My family unit broke down because there weren’t a lot of resources available to help. I’m from the South Island… and growing up gay was challenging. There was a lot of bullying in such a conservative environment,” he says.
Richard was the MHF’s top fundraiser in 2015 for the Auckland Marathon, raising over $4,000. He's also volunteered for a day at the MHF, helping them with several projects.
“Having a charity like the Mental Health Foundation that’s committed to promoting mental health is fantastic. They are brilliant people to work with and they make me want to do more.”
New Zealand Rugby (NZR) says helping its employees to get out of the office and into green spaces is key to keeping the organisation at the top of its game.
And that’s why it’s taking part in the Mental Health Awareness Week Lockout on Tuesday, 10 October. From 12–1pm, Kiwis are being encouraged to head outside to discover how happiness and wellbeing bloom when you connect with the nature that surrounds you every day.
“We hold our people as our greatest asset, so we are prepared to invest in their wellbeing,” NZR chief financial officer Nicki Nicol says.
NZR runs wellbeing programmes and workshops, as well as health-focused challenges, sporting competitions and yoga.
NZR provincial union support manager John Kirkup says there’s something different on offer every day to suit any sort of weather or mood.
“Being a sporting organisation, getting up and away from your desk is encouraged. I try and do something every day, whether it’s an organised session like swiss ball or yoga, or a hit of squash or indoor netball with workmates, or even hitting the gym downstairs,” John says.
John says when he takes a break from his desk and gets moving outside, he’s more focused and gets more done.
“If the weather is good, you get that feel-good vibe. If it’s rubbish, which it often can be in Wellington, it’s that added challenge of battling the elements. Standing up the top of the lookout by the cable car in a howling northerly certainly blows the cobwebs out!”
Being organised is one of the secrets to sticking to a wellbeing plan.
“That first step away from your desk needs to be as easy as possible so you don’t have excuses – that’s the key for me. Book it in your calendar, have your gear ready to go and think of it as a treat rather than a chore,” John says.
Positive changes noticed
Eighty percent of NZR’s 130 employees take part in at least one wellbeing activity throughout the year, with some activities happening weekly. And NZR has noticed positive changes among staff, who are more engaged and more energised.
Twice a week, Melvin Worth, NZR commercial operations manager for NZ Sevens, uses his lunch break for a run, game of squash or mountain bike.
“Being outside during work hours always reminds me of how important the work-life balance is. This puts me in a more positive frame of mind,” Melvin says.
His concentration levels are better and it’s also a chance to socialise with colleagues.
There’s also a walking group which braves Wellington’s weather regularly, as well as a running group and a bunch of people who attend group exercises together.
Māori communities are collecting mauri (life force) within kōhatu or stone from their turangawaewae (place of standing) enabling them to bring nature indoors this Mental Health Awareness Week.
This year’s theme encourages people to connect to nature for their mental wellbeing. In workplaces, people can’t always access the green and blue spaces around them as much as they would like, but a slice of nature can be brought indoors.
“Bringing a kōhatu or stone is bringing life force or energy into a workplace,” says Mental Health Foundation Māori development manager Ellen Norman.
Ellen has gathered kōhatu from Maungapiko and sand, shells and rocks from Te Oneroa o Tohe 90 Mile Beach, that sit on her desk at work.
“It grounds me and gives me the energy to continue to work in an environment that’s a bit of a concrete jungle.”
She says the kōhatu are physical reminders that help her when she feels disconnected from her maunga.
“It’s a piece of home that represents safety and nurturing. It’s a spiritual connection to signify that my tupuna are looking after me, and a resilience I carry with me, knowing that whatever situation I get into, I know they’re looking after me.”
From bootcamp and yoga classes, to nature walks, community clean-ups and marae stays, there’s a strong focus on holistic wellbeing for kaimahi (staff) at Ngāi Tahu.
A cohort of kaimahi from Ngāi Tahu just completed a noho marae event at Arowhenua in Te Umukaha (Temuka), where they learnt about the medicinal and wellbeing properties of native plants.
“It was wonderful to reconnect to Mother Earth and discover natural resources in their raw state like water cress, herbs and Rongoā Māori,” Anthony Tipene-Matua, iwi communications advisor, says.
“The holistic value of oils, rocks and our own Māori affirmations are very powerful and moving,” Mr Tipene-Matua says.
He feels the marae visit gave staff a natural boost.
“The Marae is the last bastion for things Māori in terms of kawa and tikanga so it is priceless. These opportunities give substance to the values of the organisation; whakawhanaungatanga, rangatiratanga, manaakitanga, and they uplift our wairua in a Māori environment.”
Productivity and connection to colleagues improves
Kiri Williams, an administrator from Hauora, says she looks forward to spending time in nature.
“I love the fresh air, natural colours and beauty in our surroundings, and the sound of birds – it 100% shifts your mood! If you can kick your shoes off and go barefoot that’s even better,” she says.
Ms Williams says this helps her work productivity and her connection to colleagues improves.
“I notice that we are all the same, fancy suits or high job titles disappear and everyone becomes equal when you are looking at rock art, making things with clay and learning about our natural surroundings. The extra vitamin D also does wonders for productivity as you have a happier mood.”
Employees say they pick up tools and strategies through the wellbeing programmes that they take back to the office and into their communities.
“If you can be aware of your wellbeing and know what works for you, you will be a more productive person at work, at home, with your friends and for your community. This has to be good for everyone,” Dave Wilkins, environmental advisor says.
Bootcamp and yoga classes popular
Ngāi Tahu also runs bootcamp and yoga classes which are so popular with staff they’re often booked out.
“When I have completed a bootcamp session my brain feels completely refreshed, I can attack my tasks like I would first thing in the morning, and it stimulates new ideas,” Adrian Patchett, GIS analyst says.
Mr Patchett says the classes are an opportunity to connect with colleagues.
“In my job, I do not generally have too much interaction with others, but the social connections that I make at bootcamp have made me more outgoing and I now feel that I can open up to others more.”
But if employees aren’t into physical activity, Ngāi Tahu has made sure there are other options.
“We cover a broad spectrum of mana-enhancing activities to suit our diverse workforce – there’s a little something for everyone,” Wayne Vargis, senior strategy advisor says.
Mr Vargis says the benefits of workplace wellbeing programmes are really clear.
“I return to work with a renewed sense of both purpose and enthusiasm. Most importantly, it allows me to take a step back from the complexity at hand and take a more strategic outlook on things,” Mr Vargis says.
Workplace wellbeing invaluable
The management team says investing in workplace wellbeing is invaluable.
“A safe and well workplace culture enables a strong position for us to achieve our core mission and progress outcomes for whānau,” Katie McEwan, group head people & culture says.
Ms McEwan says it’s important for Ngāi Tahu to walk the talk when it comes to caring for its people.
“When our kaimahi engage in our programmes they are able to see our values in action and understand their reciprocal benefits within the workplace whānau. Our initiatives are designed to not only support physical health and fitness but to also enhance psychosocial wellbeing elements, a sense of belonging and whānau values.”
Ngāi Tahu has a message for all employers across New Zealand.
“Kua takoto te mānuka… kawea ake! The challenge has been laid… pick it up!”
Entrepreneur Nick Shewring connects with nature every day during work hours as a daily reminder that his mental health is worth looking after.
It’s the Vitamin D from the sun hitting his skin, the endorphins and the general good feeling that makes him do it. Even on the busy days.
Nick is the co-founder of BizDojo, a co-working space provider located in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown.
“Getting outside and exercising gives me some time out from the stressful conversations or the problem-solving. In that time when I am outside, away from the desk and with my phone turned off, my brain can slow down and just soak in the Wellington waterfront or watch the dogs sunbathing outside the cafes,” he says.
"It kind of feels like a revolutionary act when a year ago that self-worth and that self-investment was so diminished.”
Nick lives with depression, and he hit breaking point last year and tried to end his life.
“BizDojo was in the midst of growth mode. We were adding team members, setting up new locations and getting ready for the launch of new projects.
“As a founder, I was under immense pressure, which I met by working harder, taking on more, and devoting less and less time to looking after myself.”
He's since recovered and now lives really well. He’s formed better habits; prioritising healthy eating, mindfulness, sleeping better and exercising to cope with the challenges that he faces as the founder of a start-up company.
After taking time out last year, Nick began to see more and more entrepreneurs who were also experiencing mental illness.
“There is this saying that when you own a yellow car, you start seeing yellow cars everywhere.”
He penned a LinkedIn post sharing his tough experience and asked people to fill in an anonymous survey.
One hundred founders, entrepreneurs and business owners responded – 95% of whom said being an entrepreneur had affected their mental health, 71% experienced anxiety, 40% identified as being depressed and over 50% did not seek help even when facing mental health issues.
The reasons respondents were struggling varied – 38% of people were affected by scaling their business, 14% by investor pressure, 26% by the need to sustain growth in their business and 32% by the process of capital raising.
The added stress that comes with being a business founder clearly takes its toll.
“In many cases you move from a person with an idea and your personal savings on the line, to someone with a team, partners and investors, and all the added responsibility that comes with it.”
BizDojo has a free and frank culture when it comes to mental health. At management meetings, each manager does a stress check-in, using a scale from one to ten.
“From a management level, we try to model healthy habits to our team. Things like making it visible that we are taking lunch breaks, or leaving the office on time… doing this shows in a very clear way that taking care of yourself, taking time out, and keeping your work life and home life in balance are valued and important.”
BizDojo has wellness programmes throughout their five New Zealand locations, which include meditation, mindfulness sessions, social soccer, healthy food clubs, and massage sessions. They’ve also just created Founders Central, an initiative to support entrepreneurs so they’re able to work through the stress of a start-up and come out the other side with a successful business and a successful life.
But Nick says they’re not perfect. BizDojo has been in the thick of growth mode and this has put a lot of pressure on their team.
“The things we had put in place to support our team last year when there were 17 of us, were not working as well with 40 of us.
“There was a really positive side to this; the openness and culture of sharing we had built within BizDojo meant that when our team support structures began to fail, our team told us. They voiced their concerns and we have been able to address, regroup and work towards solutions.”
Along with Sustainable Coastlines and Bikes and Bends, BizDojo are holding a Takapuna Beach Clean-up for Mental Health Awareness Week 2017. The aim is to boost everyone’s mood by getting them outdoors doing yoga and community work.
At sunrise and with the rain threatening, yogi’s gathered on Auckland’s Takapuna Beach (pictured above) to mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW).
The beach yoga was one of five Lululemon classes held around New Zealand on Monday, 9 October (the first day of MHAW).
There was sand, but no rain and the sun even came out as everyone moved in to their downward dog position.
The class was focused on connecting to the breath as a way to carry peoples’ minds to stillness. The instructor drew people’s attention to the feeling of the sand beneath their feet, the sound of the waves, and the ocean breeze. Supreme Coffee provided a delicious post yoga brew.
Just a few hours later, at lunchtime, people swapped their suits for stretchy pants as another group of yogi’s gathered at Auckland’s Britomart.
Yoga instructor Amelia McCombie says yoga has helped to change her life.
“The more that I dive into this work, the sense of connection and love I feel for myself, my body and my life, becomes deeper.
“I now know that when life gets tough and my mind slips back into old stories, I have the tools to quieten my mind, bring myself back to the present moment and to reconnect to a place of love and acceptance,” Ms McCombie says.
In Christchurch (pictured above), nature wasn’t the ultimate key to getting people to their outdoor yoga class. Rain meant that the class was moved inside. Despite the change in venue, the meaning and purpose behind the class remained the same.
"Yoga saved my life and that is why I teach. I wasn't living in my body before, I spent too long living in my head, with negative and unhealthy thoughts,” says Lululemon Christchurch ambassador, Kotte Aguilar.
Practicing yoga has created space for me to find awareness in my habits and that is why I have been able improve. Yoga allows me to be a better person to myself so I can be better to others."
Lululemon also held classes in Wellington and Queenstown.
Home-made cheese scones, waiata and sketching were all features of the Lockout for teams from West Coast Community and Public Health.
“We baked cheese scones, our office favourite, and organised a picnic on the river front, we took a guitar and sang waiata and enjoyed laying in the sun on the gorgeous Māwheranui (Greymouth River),” says Freedom Preston, team leader of Community & Public Health West Coast.
“The white baiters were out and about, some of the public were walking along the wall in the sunshine, tourists were exploring, families were cycling, it was a perfect spot to see people enjoying the river which is a strong focal point and identity of Greymouth.”
Ms Preston says the Lockout was an opportunity to take a break, but also to remind staff to walk the talk, when it comes to health promotion messages.
“Mental Health Awareness Week always provides our health promotion and protection teams a space to promote wellbeing messages in our community and social networks, and in doing so, it reminds us about modelling those messages and looking after our own wellbeing.”
Ms Preston says they ran a quiz about the Greymouth River and drew sketches to share with their colleagues, who couldn’t join them for the Lockout.
“The quiz and sketching allowed our creativity and spontaneity to be ignited and the general warmth of stopping, watching the river and engaging with passers-by gave us all a mental break from business as usual.”
Nutrition Health Promoter Jade Winter says staff connected with each other and enjoyed the sunshine.
“I noticed sculptures that I haven’t noticed before, I felt more energetic and connected with the environment and the people around me and I had a full belly of scones!” Ms Winter says.
“We are fortunate to work in an environment where wellbeing is a priority. It's always nice to share these moments with team leaders and management.”
Health Promoter Rosie McGrath says she noticed positive changes after the time spent in nature.
“I learned some things about my place which I didn’t know, and being together and laughing made me feel lighter and less stressed,” Ms McGrath says.
And in case you’re wondering whether there’s a secret West Coast scone recipe…
“The scones are essentially three ingredients; buttermilk, flour (gluten free to be inclusive) and tasty cheese (plus a pinch of salt and cayenne pepper)!
“If you dug deep into the basket you would’ve found a few without their bottoms… deliberately cut off as they were only good for the birds.”
New Zealand’s largest life insurer Sovereign got behind Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) by organising daily activities to boost wellbeing.
Sovereign’s 700 staff on Auckland’s North Shore could take their pick from a mindfulness talk, free chiropractor assessments, pilates, yoga, backyard cricket and an outdoor treasure hunt.
“The yoga gave me time to turn the brain off and just be in the moment. I came back to my desk refreshed,” Risk Specialist Victoria Jensen says.
Ms Jensen says MHAW was a reminder about the importance of taking regular breaks to look after mind and body.
“It made me aware that we aren’t robots and we do have up and down days,” she says.
On World Mental Health Day (Tuesday, 10 October) and as part of the nationwide Lockout, staff were armed with yoga mats and headed outside.
“I spent the hour resetting my mind and breathing in some fresh air,” Internal Communications Manager Rosalyn Lambert says.
“By getting outside and away from my desk, I was able to focus my mind on something entirely different.
“I have to say my mind didn’t wander back to my computer at all, and I was more productive when I did get back into the office,” Ms Lambert says.
Sovereign’s Corporate Social Responsibility Manager Rebecca Emery says it’s a no-brainer for businesses to take part in MHAW.
“Encouraging staff to be healthy improves their morale and increases collaboration between teams.
“Offering flexible working arrangements and promoting work/life balance from the executive leadership down is one of the many things that sets Sovereign apart as an employer,” Ms Emery says.
She says MHAW encourages management and staff to focus on wellbeing, which is something many people don’t do enough.
After 15 days and more than 15,000 stunning photos shared for Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW), the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) has announced the winner of its Photo-a-day Challenge.
Lara Macgregor took the photo of her partner Phil while they were on a walk in the hills on the Otago Peninsula.
She says a childhood memory sparked her desire to take the photo.
“Up that high in the hills, the trees are quite exposed to the elements and the wind can mould them into shapes not too dissimilar to trees from a Dr Seuss story.
“Phil just happened rest for a few moments in the bend of this tree trunk. It was a perfect offering from mother nature,” she says.
Lara says the MHAW photo challenge was a joy to be a part of.
“Sharing moments with strangers, seeing our country through different eyes and the reminder we're all in this journey together. Mostly, the joy that comes with shared experience,” she says.
Lara’s photo was the Nikon ambassador’s wild card pick. Esther Bunning chose the six finalists, which were then voted on by the public.
“It was a tough choice. I loved the diversity and varied approach to the theme – it was wonderful to see,” Esther says.
Lara to give prize away
Twelve hundred people cast their votes and Lara’s photo came out on top with 200 more votes. She won a $1,299 Nikon New Zealand camera, which she plans to giveaway.
“To win the Nikon camera is too good to be true! I plan to give it to a very special young woman who is exceptionally passionate about New Zealand's birdlife,” she says.
The young woman is a volunteer guide at Zealandia, and spends time trapping and monitoring weta in a bid to increase their numbers.
“We were chatting a few weeks ago, sharing photography tips, and she mentioned she wanted to eventually get a better camera to take better images of the birds. I couldn't think of a better home for it to go to,” Lara says.
Photo challenge brings benefits
MHF communications and marketing manager Sophia Graham says she was thrilled by the thought put into each entry.
“It was a real privilege to get a glimpse of New Zealand through the eyes of thousands of Kiwis,” she says.
“We looked at every single entry and it was so nice to see what different people treasured, how they connected with nature and the places and spaces that were meaningful to them.
“We felt like we really got to know the people who took part in the challenge and we were genuinely sad when it was over.”
The MHF runs the challenge to gently encourage participants to look at the nature around them with fresh eyes, and Sophia says feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
“More than 90% of the people we surveyed reported they spent more time in nature as a result of the challenge,” she says.
“And we heard hundreds of stories about people finding it improved their mental health, or using the challenge to connect with people experiencing a mental health problem. Others used the challenge as an opportunity to share their own experiences with mental illness. It was really great to see that the challenge is fun and genuinely helps people.”
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