Outdoor ‘Green’ Can Fight The Blues
As many of us celebrate the holiday season, many others find it stressful. Daylight is short, winter’s cold is coming on, and holiday pressures go on high.
Crawling under the covers and “hibernating” until spring may sound tempting! But how about trying another cure for the holiday blues? Put more green into your life … as in the outdoors!
A growing body of research is demonstrating that communing with nature and the outdoors is good for our mental health.
We’ve long known that even tiny bits of nature – a flowering houseplant or a calendar with pictures of outdoor scenes – can make people happier. Regular forays into the outdoors magnify that effect, helping to lift depression, boost energy and increase feelings of well-being.
Richard Louv, author of “The Nature Principle” and “Last Child in the Woods,” believes that people in today’s high-tech societies suffer ill effects from spending too much time indoors with computers and electronic devices. He calls it “nature deficit disorder.”
“As we spend more of our lives looking at screens instead of streams, our senses narrow; the more time we spend in the virtual world, the less alive we feel – and the less energy we have for going outside,” Louv writes on his blog.
Louv has plenty of company in his thinking:
- A 2013 study by researchers from England’s University of Essex, published by the mental health organization Mind, found that “ecotherapy” – that is, taking a walk in nature – reduced depression scores in 71 percent of participants. And it wasn’t just the physical exercise that did the trick. A control group that took a walk in a shopping center didn’t fare nearly as well, with only 45 percent showing reduced depression scores – and 22 percent saying they actually felt more depressed!
- A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology in 2010 showed that spending even just 20 minutes a day in fresh air boosts vitality, defined as having both physical and mental energy. “Research has shown that people with a greater sense of vitality don’t just have more energy for things they want to do, they are also more resilient to physical illnesses,” said Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and an author of the study.
- Another study published last January in Environmental Science & Technology showed that living near green spaces like parks and gardens improves long-term well-being. A group of researchers from the UK’s University of Exeter Medical School found that study participants who moved to urban areas with more green space were happier and had lower levels of anxiety and depression than those who moved to places with less green. “These findings are important for urban planners thinking about introducing new green spaces to our towns and cities, suggesting they could provide long term and sustained benefits for local communities,” said the study’s lead author, Ian Alcock.
In 2012, the World Health Organization cited depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide. These studies, and others, build the body of research indicating that natural environments improve health and well-being.
Energize yourself this winter with regular doses of “Vitamin N” – Nature! Bundle up and take a brisk walk in a park or natural area. Celebrate the holidays outdoors with your friends and family members!
The State We’re In…..
by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director
New Jersey Conservation Foundation