Eight ways to boost your mood

Three women sat together and smiling outdoors

Monday 17 January is Blue Monday, which is said to be the most difficult day of the year for our mental health. In fact, the concept of ‘Blue Monday’ was invented by a travel company and there is no evidence to say that it is actually true – but we have nevertheless taken it as an opportunity to round up some things you can do in your local park to give your mental health a boost, on Blue Monday or any other day!

Practise mindfulness
We often hear about the benefits of mindfulness – the practice of focusing on the present moment –for mental health. This moment-to-moment awareness has been shown to reduce rumination and stress, and may help us develop better and more flexible responses to stressful situations. You can reap these benefits by doing meditation or breathing exercises, and parks are certainly a great place to do this.

If those are not your thing, our parks offer lots of other things to focus on instead of your breath, such as the sound of birds or the plants in our sensory gardens, which allow you to take in the environment with all of your senses. You can find sensory and herb gardens in Caledonian Park, Barnard Park playground and King Square Gardens.

Read a book
Reading is a very calming activity. Studies have shown that 30 minutes of reading can lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of distress as much as yoga does. Why not find a quiet bench in your local park and take some time to start a new book? Barnsbury Square Gardens has a free community book swap for you to pick up your next read, and give back to the community by donating your old books.

Meet a friend
Socialising and spending time with people who are important to us is another key aspect of ensuring we stay mentally well. Grab a cup of tea or coffee at a local shop and head to one of Islington’s parks to catch up with a friend while going for a brisk walk together. When spring rolls around, make a day of it by bringing your picnic blanket and some snacks.

Take part in an organised sports session
Physical exercise is similarly important for mental wellbeing. It can improve your mood, relieve stress, and even be helpful in treating depression and anxiety. If you don’t know how to get started on your own or you’d like to meet new people, you could take part in an organised sports session in one of Islington’s parks: from Parkrun to football, tennis, cricket, and rugby. Visit the Sports in parks page to find out more. Alternatively, check out the programme of free fitness classes from Active Spaces.

Do self-guided exercise
If you’d rather not exercise with others, there are still lots of ways to get in some movement on your own. Some of our parks, such as Caledonian Park, King Square Gardens and Highbury Fields, have circular routes where you can walk, jog, or cycle. If you want to know what distance you have covered, use the running markers in Caledonian Park, Paradise Park, Tufnell Park Playing Fields, or Rosemary Gardens.

Observe and photograph local wildlife
Watching animals go about their day is a very mindful activity, as well as being entertaining! Did you know that Gillespie Park, our largest nature reserve, has 94 species of birds and 24 types of butterflies? Another great place to go is Whittington Park, with its wildlife pond and RSPB sparrow meadow, but wildlife is present in all of Islington’s parks, year-round. You could even try your hand at taking some photographs to admire later and show friends and family.

Organise an activity
Just spending time outside and being in the company of others is great for your mental health, so why not get creative and organise an activity for your friends and family? Activities like playing Frisbee and badminton are fun and cost-effective ways to get in some physical activity, enjoy the fresh air, and enhance your mental wellbeing. If you’re feeling especially creative, you could even organise a treasure hunt!

Visit a park you’ve never been to
If you feel like you are stuck in a rut, trying something new can really give your mental wellbeing a boost. With 129 parks and open spaces in Islington, there’s a good chance there are some left for you to explore. If you are a technology enthusiast, you could also take inspiration from a game or app, such as Geocaching or Pokémon Go. The Scouts Association has some tips on things to consider before you get started.

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