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Green Anxiety Therapy

Green spaces are places with natural features, such as trees, plants, flowers, and grass. Research suggests that they are critical not only to the sustainability of our environment and by extension, our physical health, but also to our mental health.

Recent research has shown that the prevalence rates of anxiety disorders and depression are significantly lower in areas where 90% of the space is green than in 10% green areas.

It’s not known for sure how green space exerts its anti-anxiety and anti-depressive effects, though opportunities to engage in recreation, exercise out in the fresh air, socialize, and relax in pleasant surroundings may all contribute (Nauert, 2009).

Other studies have also found that green spaces have anti-stress effects:

  • Those who visit green spaces more often are less likely to report suffering from stress-related illnesses (Gran & Stigsdotter, 2003).
  • In addition to inducing positive feelings, nature scenes can trigger anxiety-reducing physiological changes, such as lowering blood pressure (Ulrich et al., 1991).
  • Just looking at a green space can promote recovery from stress within three to five minutes (Ulrich, 1999).
  • Children who suffer stress due to bullying, family strife, or other problems enjoy a reduction in stress and improved self-worth after spending time in nature (Bird, 2007).

The anti-anxiety benefits of green spaces are so powerful that even just visualizing green spaces can provide relief. A study of 844 athletes found that subjects were able to lower their anxiety levels and improve their athletic performance by imagining green spaces (Parnahas & Mahamood, 2011).

Although green spaces may not cure severe anxiety on their own, evidence suggests that spending time in nature can significantly reduce anxiety, as well as improving mood and reducing physical manifestations of stress.

In other words, visiting green spaces may be a good complementary anxiety therapy.

Bird, W., for RSPB, “Natural Thinking: Investigating the Links Between the Natural Environment,” Biodiversity and Mental Health, 2007.
Grahn, P., & Stigsdotter, U.A., “Landscape Planning and Stress,” Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 2(1), pp. 1-18, 2003.
Nauert, R., PhD, “Green Space Helps Reduce Anxiety and Depression,” PsychCentral, 19 October 2009.
Parnabas, V.A., & Mahamood, Y., “Anxiety and Imagery of Green Space Among Athletes,” Sustainable Energy & Environment (ISESEE), 2011 3rd International Symposium & Exhibition, 1-3 June 2011.
Ulrich, R.S., “Effects of Gardens on Health Outcomes: Theory and Research,” In C. Cooper-Marcus & M. Barnes (Eds.) Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations, New York: John Wiley, pp.27-86, 1999.
Ulrich, R.S.; Simons, R.F.; Losito, B.D.; & Fiorito, E., “Stress Recovery During Exposure to Natural and Urban Environments,” Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11, pp.201-230, 1991.

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