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Interacting With The Environment Could Improve Your Mental Health

Nature has long been associated with meditation, positive thinking, and healthy living, but not everybody realizes what it can also do for your mental health. Recently published research has addressed the role that green space can play in your life, particularly if you live in an urban setting, or work in an area where you don’t have access to a window that displays some form of outdoor natural view. This means that whether you’re hiking in the woods, taking a stroll through a public park, or spending a long weekend in the country, giving yourself a little time with green growing things can be highly beneficial to your mental and emotional health.

Holland Study Leaks Into the United Kingdom

Dr. Matthew White, who works out of the University of Exeter as an environmental psychologist has recently followed the thought process of a research team in Holland and began digging for clues as to how nature affects mental health. The previous studies were based on how urban areas with no trees and lots of grey space caused more panic, anxiety, and overall poor mental health. This lead to the idea that maybe more green leafy plants could change this negativity into something more positive. CBC News reports: “They also discovered that when people moved into areas with more green space, improvements in mental health happened immediately. Those effects also lasted for years as levels of reported well-being remained high.”

This U.K. study was completed using data over a span of 18 years and includes information from 12,000 people within the U.K. population. Subjects studied were depression, anxiety, and how these emotions changed with the scenery.

Interesting Findings

One of the most interesting pieces of information that came out of these studies is that no matter how much green space was introduced to the test subjects over the 18 year span they never tired of it. In many cases things that alter the mood of subjects will eventually taper off and the progress will become stagnant and then decline, but with the introduction of trees, grass, and other plants to individuals the reaction stayed the same. Another interesting and puzzling finding is that researchers aren’t quite positive how to determine how much green space is enough, and if there’s such a thing as too much. They suspect that rural dwellers may not actually have the same reaction to green space as those who live in urban areas because they see green growth much more often and thus may not be brought down the way that city livers are by gray streets and a lack of nature.

Other Studies on the Subject

Despite how unique this concept might seem to some, this isn’t the first study that’s been performed on the subject of plant/human relations and how green life affects your mental health. Dr. Tina Marie Cade who designed a project while working as the associate professor of horticulture at the department of agriculture in Texas State University initiated a study in 2008 based on office workers. The test subjects were based in two categories, one of which had a view of green space from their desk, the other group did not. The results showed proof that those who worked where they could see plants felt happier throughout their day, while those who were deprived of plant life were left feeling down. Joseph Stromberg of Smithsonian Magazine writes: “Studies have found that, after looking at nature scenes, people are kinder and more charitable. They've suggested that children with ADHD have an easier time concentrating when they spend time outdoors.

Age, ethnicity, salary and sex didn’t seem to play a factor in this particular survey, which shows that the defining factor is, in fact, the plants.

Helping Your Body To Help Your Mind

Your mind and your body work together to make you healthy or sick, and although mental health is crucial and nature does seem to have a huge impact on it, the green space also plays havoc with your physical wellbeing as well. People who spend time outside throughout their day tend to get sick less often, which comes as a shock to many who assume that more open space would mean more bacteria. On the contrary, fresh air and open space means breathing in less of the dust, pet dander, and other floating bits and pieces that are hanging around in your home invisible to the human eye. It also gives you access to sunshine which can bring on feelings of happiness and give your body some much needed vitamin D. Of course, looking at a plant isn’t going to make your breathing better or your vitamin levels change, but it can cause an alteration in your cortisol levels to bring down feelings of stress and anxiety and bring you back down to earth.

Making a Difference in Your Mental Health

Unfortunately, not every office worker has an office window, and not every city has a patch of grass or a green park for citizens to take advantage of during lunch breaks and days off. For this reason it’s important to get involved in your city; suggests: “Get involved in local city planning and spearhead a movement to add more parks and gardens to your area. Urban planners are beginning to recognize the importance of natural surroundings—and involved citizens can make a difference in bringing these ideas to fruition.”

Even if you can’t do the work for your community, you can speak to government officials on the subject of having more green space made available for the public.

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