Change in scenery needed for better mental health: Experts

Physical activity outside also often improves mental concentration and alertness. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - It's not surprising more people are finding personal "green spaces" to cope with anxiety and stress from measures imposed to combat the Covid-19 outbreak, said mental health experts.

Dr Annabelle Chow, principal clinical psychologist at Annabelle Psychology, said gardening or making shelters in forests would be an extension of such methods to be around nature.

She said: "There is a lot of research which shows being around nature is generally closely linked with positive mental well-being."

She also noted that most homes in Singapore do not have gardens and Singaporeans would have to get creative in looking for their own green spaces.

For a born-again hiker who wanted to be known only as Madam Yanie, a school teacher in her late 40s, walking on nature trails began as a way of losing weight.

She said: "If we're not allowed to travel overseas, why not rediscover our own backyard?"

Once she resumed hiking on forest trails in February, she was hooked.

She added: "I find my day-to-day life so hectic - answering to parents, counselling students, completing exam papers - on top of teaching and grading papers. The silence, the greenery, the clean air - all are things I couldn't find at work."

Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist from the Centre for Psychological Wellness, said mental strains start when some feel they have been cooped up and denied their "escape".

He said: "Telltale signs of stress will include pervasive low mood, anxiety which is difficult to control, irritability, poor concentration and insomnia.

"These may result in poor functioning at work or relationship difficulties with family members."

A change in scenery, sunshine and fresh air can help one freshen up cognitively, he said. Physical activity outside also often improves mental concentration and alertness.

Dr Lim said most of his patients cited relationship problems, particularly with spouses and partners due to the long hours of having to face each other or due to having to fight over resources like the computer or work space.

He added: "Many have felt that working from home has resulted not only in physical distancing but also communicative and emotional distancing between colleagues.

"They no longer receive the affirmations or reassurances from superiors and colleagues and find themselves wanting in their confidence, often not being sure if what they are doing for work is right or wrong."

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