Mental Health Awareness Week: Q&A with Craig Freeman on the power of nature

Creating Good

May 10, 2021

Monday 10th May 2021 marks the launch of Mental Health Awareness Week. This year, the theme for the week is ‘nature’. During a busy working day, it is important to understand the value of taking breaks and how you can involve the outdoors. Something as simple as a walk to the end of the garden or a coffee with the sun on your face can really help your brain reset after a series of Zoom calls or significant screen time during a project.

Craig Freeman, our Innovation and Development Director and Trustee of CPRE Surrey, is a huge advocate for connecting with nature, so we caught up with him to ask about the benefits and how he fits the outdoors into his daily routine.

“I truly believe in the idea that nature nurtures us” – Craig Freeman

Craig, have you always been passionate about connecting with nature?

I’ve always enjoyed an outdoor stroll or a kick about with friends, but for me the real passion for the outdoors started when I became a parent. As any other parents will be well aware, the sudden shift in responsibility is overwhelming, and I definitely needed (and still need) an outlet to keep me sane. Especially now I have my third on the way!

So, you find connecting with nature helps with your mental health?

100%! My eldest is 7 and my youngest has just turned 5. When they were tiny, I would head outdoors to push them to sleep, or to avoid them screaming down the café. It was my safe space. Now that they are older it’s still my escape – but not always with them. I find walking really helps me. Whether it’s with my wife, a friend, a family member, or sometimes just on my own – it helps to quiet my mind, to slow my breathing, and to help me feel more balanced and in control.

I also find gardening extremely therapeutic. My garden is definitely my happy place! It has helped us all mentally and physically throughout lockdown. I was grateful for the space before, but am even more so now. Gardening has become more than a hobby. It is a form of mindful recovery from the stresses of the work and parenting juggle.

What would you recommend to anyone struggling with their mental health?

Get outside! I know mental health is complex and a quick walk or plant-potting session will never be the whole answer, but I personally have relied so heavily on the outdoors and experienced such strong benefits, especially since becoming a parent.

One of my favourite things to do is to find new forests to explore. A few months ago, after an entire year of lockdowns and working from home, I was starting to feel claustrophobic in my small home office. We headed to Glover’s Wood in Charlwood as a family, and I could immediately feel the world opening up again as we stepped foot into the woodland. My back stopped aching, my lungs filled deeper, and my brain went quiet. We walked aimlessly, kids chatting away telling jokes that didn’t make sense, going over stories they had told us 100 times. In the house that can be annoying, but somehow out under the trees it wasn’t.

There is a growing base of research championing the benefits of nature for health and wellbeing. I’m no scientist, but I am a parent, a husband, and an employee and I can tell you that I felt a whole lot better for a couple of hours in the woods.


You can read more on how Craig is championing ‘outdoor parenting’ and the benefits being outside has on our mental health in his blog.