In modern society, stress and anxiety pervade all facets of our daily lives. Whilst we must remain grateful for the benefits which technology bestow upon us, it is regrettably one of the main sources of mental health disorder. With at least 1 in 4 individuals living with a mental health disorder at present, this is a widespread and growing issue. Though the concept of the pressures of late modern society having a negative impact on wellbeing is nothing new; it is important that we regularly examine ways in which we can develop resilience and further promote our current level of mental wellbeing.
Through extensive research from the Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project, the New Economics Foundation established 5 key elements that form a cohesive strategy through which individuals can improve their mental wellbeing. These five ways to wellbeing are: connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give (Foresight, 2008). From my occupational therapy perspective and own experience, the riverside naturally lends itself to the five ways. The sociable atmosphere of the Broads localities provides an array of opportunities to connect with unique individuals in order to develop one’s social networks. Naturally, the river is the perfect place for rowing, however, it is important not to ignore this opportunity for physical activity which itself has been linked to an improved sense of health and wellbeing.
‘Take notice’ is arguably a personal favourite of the five ways to wellbeing as it fits so perfectly with mindfulness - a concept which is now ubiquitous in mental health promotion. The idea behind mindfulness is to develop a greater sense of awareness of the present moment whilst acknowledging our many thoughts in a non-judgemental way, just letting things be as they are. Whilst many formal mindfulness techniques exist, take notice reduces mindfulness down to focussing on an element of one’s surroundings in order to provide a grounding influence during times of stress and apprehension. The waterside is ideal for mindfulness due to the rich sensory experience it provides. Be that the sight of verdant banks and rippling river, or perhaps the sounds of local wildlife, or even the smell of wild fauna.
The riverside presents multiple opportunities to learn something new, be that the development of a new hobby such as fishing or rowing. Likewise, we can continue to learn in ways outside the convention of gaining new knowledge. You could set out to discover a new part of the river you have never explored before. The concept of ‘give’ can be interpreted in multiple ways. This could be giving your time to a local organisation by volunteering, your company to a friend, or a gift for a new friend – the riverside provides opportunities for all.
I hope from this you have a greater understanding of how beneficial the waterside can be for our mental wellbeing in modern society. The five ways to wellbeing provide a quick overview of the what this natural environment can begin to offer us in trying and tumultuous times. Perhaps take the time to explore your local riverside and challenge yourself to achieve one of the five ways discussed earlier and experience a renewed sense of wellbeing.
Lewis S – Occupational Therapy Student
Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project (2008). Final Project report – Executive summary. London: The Government Office for Science.