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    This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week focuses on connecting with nature and getting outdoors regularly as the key to maintaining good mental health


    Every month, in support of Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest, The Royal Exchange talks to a Londoner about their city lifestyle, and the things they have found most conducive to maintaining a healthy mind and helping them to cope during challenging times. To mark Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, we revisited these interviews and here we share with you a selection of quotes, from a range of Londoners, on the tried and tested methods that they’ve found help them to maintain and restore a sense of balance, with exercising and spending time outdoors cited by almost everyone we talk to:


    ‘Music, swimming, being in wild places, and, most of all, getting enough sleep. Meditation and going out to the forest – we are so lucky in East London to have Epping Forest so close by.’

    Vanessa Morris, CEO of Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest



    ‘I wake up one hour early every morning to do light exercise before coming to work. This helps to erase any negative thoughts and energies.’

    Ade Adeniji, front of house security manager at The Royal Exchange



    ‘I go for regular walks in country parks with friends. I like exploring new ones, and places that are close by, but which I have never taken the opportunity to visit. Following lockdown, I have definitely learned the importance of getting outdoors more.’

    Deirdre Barr, retired nurse and recent director of operations at the Nightingale Hospital London



    ‘For me it’s a combination of things, such as being physically active where you can – exercising at home or outdoors – and engaging in mental exercises to connect with your inner self. It’s helpful if you can learn how to block out the pressures of life, even if it’s just for a moment, and I do this through meditation and prayer.’

    Munsur Ali, film producer and City of London council member



    ‘The way you start each day depends on how you finish each day, so getting enough sleep is absolutely vital for me. Also, daily exercise and getting outside. A walk after every lunchtime is a great start.’

    Michelle Ogundehin, author and style expert



    ‘I try to make time for the things I know are important for my mental (and physical) health. Exercise – jogging, walking, tennis and reformer pilates primarily; seeing (or, in recent months, Zooming with) friends and family; good food; good books; and travelling. By and large, maintaining a balanced routine that includes exercise and nourishing down-time, and trying not to be too hard on myself when things don’t quite go to plan.’

    Margarita Skarkou, founder member of Barclays UK Ventures



    ‘During challenging times, staying fit and healthy is really important. Not only do I find that exercise improves my physical health, it also plays a hugely positive role in enhancing my mental health too. I’ve done a range of sports, from jogging and biking to playing tennis. When possible, I also like to go on a walk to clear my head. It gives me some space away from the office and time to think things through without distraction.’

    William Russell, The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of London



    ‘I love to go for a run or a walk, it helps me clear my mind. I take my headphones with me and blast some fun and uplifting music. I always find afterwards I have a clearer mind and it helps me process my emotions and is a massive stress reliever.’ 

    Vanessa Sanyauke, founder of Girls Talk London



    ‘I have to exercise regularly, otherwise I notice a drop in mood. And something I’ve done since changing careers and becoming self-employed nearly a decade ago, is to make sure I shower and take a walk round the block every morning before starting work; and to properly wind down every night before bed. I think it’s really important to productivity and well-being to have a defined working day, particularly when the physical space doesn’t change.’

    Ed Smith, cook and food writer



    ‘Walking out in nature helps when feeling overwhelmed, as well as providing me with necessary design inspiration. I’ve also started an online pilates class to counteract bad posture, as I’ve been spending so much time hunching over my devices and on Zoom calls.’

    Shilpa Reddy, floral designer



    ‘For me, it is always about exercise and moving, either outside or in the gym. Exercise is absolutely the key to good mental health for me. I notice a change in my mood depending on whether I am able to exercise or not.. Even if I just give myself half an hour to move, it has an effect. My advice to anyone would be to set yourself small, achievable and scalable goals that can be changed. And get into a routine. That routine doesn’t have to be militant, but a routine that suits you without adding exercise stress is a great thing. Exercise can also be done just by being outside. That is one of the most effective healers mentally, just as much as throwing weights around in a gym. So if you can’t access a gym or you are short of time, go for a walk. March it out. Find some trees, find a coast, go to the river in London. Give that time to yourself.’

    Aimee Fuller, British Olympic snowboarder

    For Mental Health Awareness Week, Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest is encouraging everyone to find a way to connect with nature and enjoy the wellbeing benefits that can bring, such as reducing feelings of isolation, protecting our mental health and preventing disease. Click here to visit the Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest website and read more about the small and simple ways you can bring more nature into your everyday life.

    The Royal Exchange is partnering with Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest to encourage conversations about mental health, wellbeing and community spirit. For further information on Mind in the City, its support services – a range of innovative and collaborative services to support people’s mental and physical wellbeing, resilience and recovery – and how you can get involved with campaigning, fundraising or volunteering, please visit:

    Mind in the City, Hackney and Waltham Forest is part of the national Mind network, which provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing difficulties, visit to access information about a broad range of topics and services, designed to help you overcome any challenges you may be facing