Mental Health Awareness Week: nature – the subconscious healer

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week from 10-16 May and the theme is connecting with nature. Luke Sullivan from University of Portsmouth Rowing Club shares his thoughts

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Stunning conditions for Grosvenor rowers on the River Dee (c) Chris Hudson

For centuries now, we as humans have had a connection with nature. Nature provided food and water to help us survive. In return, we looked after it, let it grow in all its beauty. Although this has changed as time has gone on, we can undertake some sports and activities that still allow us to see nature in all its glory and reconnect. One of those is rowing.

As rowers, we sometimes take for granted how lucky we are to do our sport in the most serene and beautiful places around the country. We are up early to see nature in its raw and unadulterated form. Spending time in nature is proven to improve your mood, reduce feelings of stress and anger, and improve self-esteem. All these benefits, coupled with exercising and improving our physical health, makes rowing such an attractive sport and one many of us are lucky to partake in.

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As a rower, we need to develop a connection with nature. Understanding the tide, the wind and the wave height are vital to our sport and part of the challenge.

“We reached the end of the channel and could feel eyes watching us”

Hearing the trickle from the boat’s bow, just cutting the surface of the water like butter. I’m sure we’ve all used the word ‘glass’ to describe perfect flat water. All those early mornings, standing there surveying the beautiful tranquillity of nature is so mentally healing. Smelling the fresh cold air, admiring the stillness of the water as the sun rises, is enchanting. It gives you a buzz but also that sense of calmness in a moment of solitude.

I remember once rowing on the sea off Portsmouth. It was 6am and the weather was beautiful. We were taking out a quad and doing some practice pieces.

We reached the end of the channel and could feel eyes watching us. We turned to see about half a dozen seals just sitting on the mud bank looking at us. It was then I realised how amazing a sport it is. What other sport would allow you to get this close with nature and animals like that? All those early mornings being on the water became a way of protecting my peace and looking after my mental health.

Like the Exmouth crew pictured above, being part of a peaceful environment with nature allows you to reflect and embrace your thoughts, be it positive or negative.

Welcome your thoughts, acknowledge them; you are in a safe space to do so. This is the time when any feelings that might have been suppressed come to the surface. You develop a connection with your boat, your crew, and nature that can be powerful. We, as rowers, should appreciate this opportunity more.

Photos: Chris Hudson, Will Loftus

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