By Jody Trager, PhD, Program Director at Promises Malibu Vista One of the greatest gifts of this world is nature. But with so much focus on working indoors and living in cities, there is a disconnection from this great source of beauty and grounding. Humans were meant to dwell in natural environments and separations from that can add to mental health issues. A few minutes in nature can help turn a bad day around. It can clear the head, calm nerves, lower blood pressure and help with concentration. It can also reduce depression, anxiety and stress, and lift your mood. Here are some of the simple ways that nature and greenery have been shown to help.
- Visiting in parks. Some people in suburban settings are lucky enough to find nature outside their door. In urban settings, parks provide slices of green paradise. They have the secret super power of calming you down and improving health. Just sitting by a pond watching ducks and swans can make your troubles float away. Even placing a blanket on the grass in a park and sitting a spell can make you feel calmer. The environment can be grounding and yet uplifting. Scientists say that a 30-minute visit to such an environment can improve both your mental and physical health.
- Nature-walking. Just being in nature and breathing fresh air is healthy. Strolling or taking a nature walk through a park or green area can have a positive impact in a number of ways. One study compared a 50-minute walk in an urban environment to a nature walk and the walk in nature showed many more benefits, including decreased rumination and reduced anxiety. It also helped with cognition and memory. Walking in parks has also been shown to help alleviate major depressive disorder.
- Walking with others. If you are not a “walker,” you might be more motivated if you walk with a friend, or several people. You don’t have to be close with members in the group to get the health benefits. A study of group nature-walking showed that depression was significantly lower in participants even if there was no significant social impact, such as making new friends. The physical activity reportedly mitigated people’s perception of stress in their lives as well as reducing the impact of stressful life events.
- Watching birds. There’s something peaceful and promising about hearing the sound of birds chirping. It makes people feel hopeful. Watching them frolic or in flight can reduce anxiety and depression. One study showed that both urban and suburban dwellers benefit from bird-watching when they can also see trees and shrubs. People who spend time around birds plus nature are less likely to suffer from depression.
Green Reduces Blues
In many urban areas, great strides have been made in bringing more greenery into the landscape. Some communities and corporations focus on adding grass, gardens and trees to bring nature into even malls and big hotels. There is also a movement to green cities. You can also bring more greenery into life by planting trees, growing a garden, or, if space is limited, having plants. The color can lift your mood and breathe life into a living space. People of all walks of life feel better around nature. It’s one of the reasons that spring traditionally makes people feel lighter and happier, especially for those used to cold winters. As the colors of nature come to the surface, so do feelings of renewal. Researchers say that nature’s greenery may have more of a positive impact than green currency. Poor people living along a national forest were happier than the richest residents of a city. Depression, stress and symptoms of anxiety are more likely to be reported by people who dwell in areas with less than a 10% tree canopy. A little bit of green can go a long way toward improving your sense of well-being and mood.