Anxiety and Connecting With Nature

Anxiety and Connecting With Nature

Did you spend lots of time outside as a child? Do you remember spending hours running, jumping, eagerly turning over rocks in search of bugs, happily chasing butterflies, or exploring the far edges of your back yard? Will your children have similar memories?

Adults and including children, now spend more than 90% of their time indoors according to reports . An increase in addictive electronic entertainment, smaller and less accessible green spaces, and restricted outdoor play have all combined to result in a generation that is largely out-of-touch with and disconnected from the natural world. It has been observed that when a child or teenager does not have adequate unstructured time surrounded by nature, they often display several symptoms of ADHD.

It has been found that individuals who live within 0.6 miles of green space (such as a forest or park) experience lower levels of anxiety and depression.  A study found that children with ADHD demonstrated a reduction in symptoms after spending time participating in activities that took place in a natural setting (such as playing in the woods or fishing). Another study revealed that taking long walks in the country on a regular basis improved self esteem in participants and provided mood-elevating results that were similar to the effects of anti-depressants.

In addition to lowering levels of anxiety and depression, regular exposure to nature has also been tied to increased impulse control and enhanced cognitive functioning. A child’s brain needs to work overtime to keep up with the constant stimuli that comes with living in an modern urban environment. Time in nature, away from everything but the peaceful sounds of wildlife and natural elements, can provide an opportunity for the mind and body to relax and to recharge. Experts recommend providing children with a “green hour” every day.  This should be unstructured time for a child to explore and interact with the natural world.

Being In Nature Can Reduce Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
People who visit parks for 30 minutes or more each week are much less likely to have high blood pressure or poor mental health than those who don’t
Parks offer multiple health benefits including reduced risks of developing heart disease, stress, anxiety and depression.
If everyone visited their local parks for half an hour each week there would be seven per cent fewer cases of depression and nine percent fewer cases of high blood pressure

Such effects have been found for not only being immersed in nature — like in the woods or a park — but also for looking out the window at natural scenes and even simply looking at photos of them.

People who perceive their neighborhoods as being less green have a lower likelihood of good physical and mental health; those with less access to private or shared gardens experience higher levels of stress and are more likely to be overweight; and those living in areas with few green spaces have higher morbidity levels for a number of diseases, including anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, low socioeconomic neighborhoods tend to have fewer facilities for outdoor physical activity and fewer natural elements, with more unsafe play areas and greater physical deterioration.

For young people with serious substance abuse issues and/or mental health disorders, horticulture therapy programs have a range of benefits including lower anxiety and depression levels, decreased illegal activity and drug use, and higher self-esteem. Being involved with nature in a detention setting increases self-pride, a sense of belonging, cooperation and social skills.

The elderly are more likely to report a high or very high level of psychological distress than younger people. However, areas with natural landscaping, green neighborhood meeting places, group-based nature activities such as walking, and shared gardens for the old people can facilitate social contact, which has been shown to reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as depression and cardiovascular disease.

In 2014, the UN reported 54 per cent of the world’s population lived in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050 . Just as urbanization and disconnection from nature have grown dramatically, so have mental disorders such as depression.

In fact, city dwellers have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people in rural areas. People born and raised in cities are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.

When we get closer to nature—be it untouched wilderness or a backyard tree—we do our overstressed brains a favor.