Have you been feeling stressed, jittery or down lately? If you live in a city, you probably have. The remedy isn’t in your medicine cabinet, though; it’s in the landscape.
Studies have shown that people who live in urban areas have a 20 percent higher risk of suffering from anxiety, and a 40 percent greater chance of become depressed. But here’s the good news: researchers have also found that city folks who live the closest to “green space” are significantly less likely to have poor mental health.
The many stressors city living inflicts on people have been shown to increase activity in the “fight or flight” regions of the human brain. A leisurely stroll through a park or quiet grassy area, however, encourages people to rest and linger for longer periods of time, shaking off stress and improving mood. As little as five minutes of green exercise can produce these benefits.
Surprisingly, it’s not the emptiness or the quiet of such spaces that has this effect, as one might assume. The researchers found, rather, that it’s experiencing nature in all its messy, wild glory, filled with the sounds of animals, that has the most impact on overheated minds.
The people who design the layouts of new urban communities are increasingly being encouraged to include more green spaces in their plans. That can only be good news for those of us who make our living designing, installing and maintaining landscapes. Now we can add ‘nature therapist’ to our job descriptions.