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Mental Health and the Benefits of Outdoor Work

During the Covid-19 pandemic, farmers across the world are having difficult times. This pandemic leaves them facing manpower shortages and severely disrupted supply chains. But even if it is sometimes a difficult occupation without 30 days of vacation or free working hours, it is more than a job. It has the biggest advantage of connecting human beings with nature. And it has a big effect on each farmer´ mental health. Especially because it is mainly an outdoor job where your colleagues are animals, flowers, vegetables or fruits. And especially at this time of deglobalization, it is a job where social distance is not a big problem.

Many people forget how important it is to get fresh air, daylight (and even sunshine), and interact with nature. You may notice how you get a good feeling when you have your gardening gloves on in your backyard, and getting to work outside would give you that chance all year round. Also, you will enjoy a polychronic lifestyle based on natural cycles and routines rather than a monochronic clock-based life where you’re done at a given time.

The reason why so many people do not perceive agriculture as attractive is that people are a little bit detached from the culture of the land and of nature. Generations of people have never worked in the fields because they have moved to cities. If one of them owns the land, they are usually not very interested in it. Not only do these people not know how to farm, but they have no reason to do so because they are doing something else.

But what is enjoyable about farming? Most of the farmers would reply: “everything”. After all, the work of a farmer is diverse, because you do something different every day, so you can try a lot of activities. You don’t just work in the fields, but you can be also in the woods or by the pond. Sometimes it is necessary to build or repair something, which sometimes you can do by yourselves, other times you have to hire, for example, a bricklayer or locksmith, from whom one also learns something. Also, you have to watch the machines because they require maintenance. And last but not least, you watch how your company is doing financially. You really wouldn’t enjoy sitting at a table or standing at the waist all day doing the same thing over and over again. You farm in a family business; you don’t play any games there. Not in the sense that white collars would conventionally mean for it. Either in the evening or the morning, you’re having your daily briefing: your family meeting at which you can talk about what needs to be done. And most of them do what they can.

There are many benefits, in particular for the mental health of everybody who is running a farm and work outdoor. Let´s put together the main advantages of working outdoor and benefits for mental health:

  1. Working with nature…

    Who wouldn’t try to wake up every morning in front of the theatre of nature? Wouldn’t that be the recipe for pure happiness? Work and live in the fresh air, far from the noise, of the metro work. To feel every sensation that nature offers us, that’s the dream.

 

  1. …and with the animals

    Giving animals lots of love and receiving it is the real recipe for happiness. Take care of each little animal that walks the farm. Dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, cows or sheep: you can never have enough of this love for animals. Who has never dreamed of hugging a sheep in mud, who?

 

  1. Is my food fresh?

    Working in rural areas also means being able to eat and cook the best products. Whether they come from the garden or the neighbouring producer, the food will always be fresh. To be a farmer is to feast on each meal.

 

  1. My tractor cost more than a Ferrari

    The time is to wake up the techno-gadget lover within you! Working on a farm is an opportunity to drive the best gear, with ultra-modern machinery

 

  1. Because love is also in the meadow

    The ultimate advantage that the rural world offers you. If you haven’t found your other half yet, the show “Love in the meadow” will allow you to find true love, in addition to your cat, your 4 dogs and 60 cows.

 

  1. And above it is a sector that recruits!

    Bringing together nearly millions of workers around the agriculture sector as a globe. It is an area which is favourable to hiring but which is struggling to attract young people. Farms need people and have taken the learning curve to pass on their knowledge. In particular, in an ageing sector where the average age of operators is 51 years.

 

These are also reasons why there are many projects regarding therapeutic benefits for people with mental illness. The use of farms in promoting human mental and physical health in cooperation with health authorities is increasing in Europe and the USA, particularly under the Green care banner. Working on the farm provides a non-threatening opportunity for social interaction. The focus on the work of the farm means that connections with others are not the focus of the activity, but rather a by-product. Furthermore, interaction with animals is already established as a mechanism for reducing stress and anxiety.

Also, the physical activity plays a crucial role. The links with physical activity and mental health are well established. Working as a farmer provides an opportunity for physical activity. Feeling physically tired at the end of the day is highlighted as a positive aspect. The fact that physical activity can be done in nature adds to its effectiveness, reducing feelings of stress and leading to a sense of calm.

For most of human history, we spent our days outdoor. We hunted, gathered, scavenged, and farmed in the open air. But almost three centuries ago, we started spending our days working inside, specifically in factories. The industrial revolution introduced long hours, child labour, and some pretty working conditions, sometimes resulting in people being trapped inside their workplaces and unable to escape. Not only being outside in nature improves our mental and physical well-being, but it also improves memory and focus, reduces mental fatigue, and increases creativity.

Have you ever felt calmer, more relaxed, or more determined after spending time in nature? A simple outdoor stay can do wonders for relieving anxiety, stress and depression. Many studies have shown that nature has a positive effect on mental health. What you see, hear and live in nature can improve your mood at the moment. There is a close link between time spent in nature and the reduction of negative emotions. This includes symptoms of anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, headache or problems with digestion.

Do you feel stressed? There is a link between time spent in nature and reducing stress. It takes just a few minutes outdoors to relieve stress, as measured by muscle tension, blood pressure and brain activity. Time spent in green spaces significantly reduces cortisol, the stress hormone. Nature also boosts endorphin levels and dopamine production, which contributes to happiness. Contact with nature has restorative properties, the capability to increase our energy and strengthen our feelings of vitality and attention. Do you feel blocked by a project or an idea? Being outdoors enhances creativity. Proximity to green spaces can restore the capacity for concentration and attention.

Even pre-Socratic philosopher Thales stated: “What man is happy? “He who has a healthy body, a resourceful mind and a docile nature.” Later on Roman poet, Juvenal wrote that “You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body” as his first sentence in a list of what is desirable in life. And the Romans took it seriously: historian and senator Marcus Porcius Cato, also known as Cato the Censor or the Wise, was known for being a physically strong man devoted to agriculture when not busy with his military, political and intellectual life.

Man forms a dynamic system with the environment bound by the exchange of substances, mediated by both food and water intake and the air. The environment affects a person mainly by its influence on the mental state of health, on the economic activities of a person, on the civilizational and cultural level and the creation of lifestyle. One is always in interaction with one’s surroundings. On the one hand, it is positively or negatively affected by the environment, and on the other hand, it constantly changes this environment, either positively or negatively. Man is very actively involved in the environment to adapt it to his needs.

Unfortunately, nowadays, the growing trend for urbanization means the majority of the world´s population are spending less time exposed to natural environments. The people´s attitudes and beliefs toward health and the environment, and how these may interact with behavioural and physiological responses is at this period crucial.

In closing, what is, therefore, mental health? It belongs to us just like the physical one. To live a healthy and happy life, it is important to pay attention to prevention. We take care of the body relatively well. We are slowly learning the habits of a healthy lifestyle. But what about our mental health? Do we take care of it too? One without the other does not work as it should. What is meant by mental health? It is closely related to the psyche.

A mentally healthy person is fine. It resists everyday stress, does not suffer from depression, anxiety or substance disorders. A mentally healthy person can handle problems. He is confident and emotionally balanced enough. He lives his life actively. He can communicate with the environment; he participates in the world. He solves new challenges, situations and unexpected obstacles with forethought. He can handle any situation. At the same time, he does not forget to rest and take care of himself. It´s in balance.

Can you see yourself in these few sentences? Do you have a job that provides you also this balance? Let´s say that the ideal job is the one which is effective for both, the body and the spirit; only this can keep the man in perfect health, and the only one in these conditions is the farmer.