How green spaces help boost mental health

Depression is defined as a medical condition that negatively affects how one feels, thinks, and reacts. Depression causes feelings of sadness accompanied by a loss of interest in activities that a person previously enjoyed. It leads to a variety of emotional and physical problems and affects an individual’s ability to function in day-to-day life. Depression is different from the feelings of grief or sadness that occur from the loss of a loved one or due to physical or mental trauma.

Depression and anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults over the age of 18 and above each year in the U.S. alone. This is approximately 18.1% of the population.

According to an article in Psychology Today, depressive thinking is contagious and unhealthy attitudes such as pessimism and criticism can be communicated from one person to another. Give the chronicity and the global scale of the disease, it is important to be aware of the various factors that contribute to the conditions of depression and anxiety.

Simple coping mechanisms such as a loving and upbeat company, music, exercise, food, and a soothing environment help to control anxiety and keep depression at bay. If you suffer from issues of anxiety or depression or know someone who does, then being aware of the role the environment plays can be an important step in helping control and even eliminate the depression.

Green Spaces Boost Our Mental Health

Green spaces play an important role in keeping us calm and upbeat. A soothing window with green plants and bright, colorful flowers or a window overlooking the trees help calm the nerves and gives relief from daily stressors. Simply looking at soothing pictures of rolling lawns and trees can reduce our stress. Green spaces have an immensely positive impact on the physical and emotional health of both individuals and communities.

Although research has not been able to show a clear link between green spaces and improved physical health, the availability of green spaces is independently reported to be associated with increased survival of the elderly population. A positive association between high levels of green spaces in the environment and lower death rates from stroke has been reported in a study. Some of the many ways in which green spaces have a positive effect on us are:

Impact on Mental Health
The provision of green spaces in the neighborhood and access to green spaces has a positive impact on stress and our quality of life. A study shows that individuals living at a distance of 1 km or more than the nearest green space have a lower level of health and health-related quality of life and have 1.42 times higher odds of stress as compared to individuals who live less than 300 meters from a green space.

If you experience anxiety and stress on a regular basis, then the simple exercise of regularly and religiously visiting green spaces such as public gardens can dramatically reduce stress and, with it, your chances of developing stress-related disorders.

Impact of Landscaping
Urban areas have a considerable amount of dilapidated vacant land that has overgrown vegetation or is filled with trash. According to researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine and the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, people living a quarter of a mile around greened up spaces had a 41.5% decrease in depression as compared to people who lived near places where vacant spaces had not been cleaned and greened.

A recent study from the same team also revealed a startling 29% decrease in gun violence near greened up spaces. Charles C. Branas, PhD, chair of Epidemiology at Columbia University, says, “While mental health therapies will always be a vital aspect of treatment, revitalizing public spaces where people live, work, and play, may have a broad, population-level impact on mental health outcomes.”

You can get your community involved in actively improving the look of vacant or dilapidated lands around your neighborhood. Clean up and green up the common spaces that are an eyesore. A well-maintained and pleasing landscape with grassy greens and shrubs improves the general mood of the entire community, making people happier as opposed to the run-down look of a poorly maintained neighborhood.

Decrease in Crime Rates and Increase in Self-Esteem
Long-term studies over a 30-year period in communities, housing projects, and prisons show that clean well-landscaped environments promote an increase in self-esteem and a general sense of well-being and bring about a decrease in vandalism. It is easier for young adults and children to get into violent acts of vandalism in a neighborhood that looks uncared for. Well maintained landscapes with adequate greenery promote a sense of well-being and improve an individual’s pride in oneself and one’s neighborhood. Acts of vandalism and violence in places such as prisons are known to reduce drastically when the environment is well landscaped with adequate greenery.

Green spaces decrease feelings of depression by more than 68% in non-affluent neighborhoods with a stressful and chaotic urban environment. The socio economic impact of having clean well-maintained green spaces, especially in neighborhoods that are not well-to-do is too immense to be ignored. Greening up of public spaces is a simple and inexpensive way of boosting the emotional welfare of individuals and communities.

It is important to note that simple clean-up interventions without any greening do not result in any improvement in anxiety levels or mental health. Greening up spaces is the key to making a positive impact on mental health. There is something about lush green lawns, flowering shrubs, and trees that makes us pause, take a deep breath, and let go of our worries and stress.

Impact on Children
Green spaces help children think effectively and better handle the stressors of childhood. A study published in Environment and Behavior (Vol35:311-330) states, amongst other things, that “… by boosting children’s attentional resources, green spaces may enable them to think more clearly and cope more effectively with life’s stress.” Another study found that the presence of potted plants in classrooms, workspaces, hospitals, etc., help lower blood pressure, increase attentiveness, improve attendance, lower anxiety levels, and improve general sense of well being.

A study showed that inattentiveness was reduced by as much as 70% in a classroom that had plants and foliage as compared to the one that did not. Green spaces give children a refreshing break from the challenges of growing up and give their growing minds the freedom to thrive. Imagination and creativity – the two pillars of childhood are strengthened and nurtured when children spend time playing in nature.

Green spaces are vital for the holistic and well balanced development of a young mind. A study by the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign shows that the symptoms of attention-deficit disorder in children are reduced when they are exposed to nature on a daily basis, even when the exposure is only through a window.

Plant trees in your children’s room or get them to water the plants in your house. This tiny little act of watering the plants daily gets children to stop and observe the slow and gradual changes that occur in plants. It teaches children how to be patient, makes them kinder, more caring, loving, and better human beings.

Privacy in Public Spaces
Well-placed plants and trees give homes, communities, and many other places privacy without the need for walls. A garden with high hedges and flowering trees keeps away the sounds and sights of the street without the need for walls, keeping us stress-free at the same time.

How to Incorporate Greenery in Daily Life
Research suggests that as compared to a barren environment, having plants around you has a positive impact on your health and productivity. Surrounding yourself with potted plants is an excellent idea if you are experiencing stress and are prone to anxiety issues.
There are many ways to ensure that the soothing balm of greenery is present in your life.

Try to access green spaces in your environment as a part of your daily routine. Simple actions such as taking a slightly longer route to work that passes through a garden or a park can be immensely beneficial. Get involved in your community and commit to greening up the public spaces around your neighborhood if they are in a run-down state.

Grow plants around your house in verandahs or balconies or have indoor plants. Nothing beats having a small garden area to potter around in. However, lack of space is not a valid reason to not have plants. You can place plants on a bench by the wall, on a window sill, or in a corner in or outside the house. Corner shelves that receive natural daylight are the perfect places for plants that do not require too much sunlight. Plants can be hung on walls, and a dull grey wall can turn into a colorful and interesting living green wall. Windows are the all-time favorite place for plants. Plants on window sills help reduce noise, provide a natural barrier against pollution, and improve aesthetics. Staircase corners is another place that can comfortably house large plants.

If you are really low on space, then air plants that thrive without much care and need to be watered infrequently can be hung in transparent glass orbs in the house.

Thanks for reading. Please do let us know your views on this article. Look forward to make positive impact on mental health!

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References:

1. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression
2. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1403494810367468
3. https://academic.oup.com/jpubhealth/article/33/2/212/1585136
4. https://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-releases/2018/july/greening-vacant-lots-reduces-feelings-of-depression-in-city-dwellers-penn-study-finds
5. http://projectevergreen.org/resources/lifestyle-benefits-of-green-spaces/
6. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/urban-mindfulness/200903/plants-make-you-feel-better
7. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-be-yourself/201606/is-depression-contagious

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