By Amanda Stemen

Climate change and mental health are two of the greatest areas of concern right now. This isn’t a mere coincidence given that our relationship with our environment greatly impacts our mental health and overall well-being. Time spent in nature, in any form, makes us feel happier, more peaceful, rejuvenated, and connected to something greater than ourselves. There’s good reason for this. Green space (E.g., plants, trees, grass, flowers) has been scientifically shown to heal our brains. We fatigue our brains with excessive directed attention, (Through urban living, busy lives, etc.) which causes actual brain damage, manifesting itself as heightened levels of anxiety and depression. Green space doesn’t require directed attention, allowing our brains to heal that damage. That’s why we feel better after spending some time outdoors, literally our brain has been healed.

Nature reduces stress and anxiety, decreases depression, improves overall mood, reduces anger, lessens symptoms of PTSD, ADHD, and addiction, improves information processing, focus, and memory, increases self-esteem and sense of empowerment, and boosts productivity and creativity. Nature also increases and improves our social connections, as well as decreases antisocial behaviors. Green space itself is directly linked to lower crime and economic growth, which improve our overall well-being, both as individuals and communities. Spending time in nature also improves sleep, decreases illness and recovery time from injury, reduces pain, improves cardiovascular and other body systems’ health, and is useful in weight loss and management. Moving our bodies in the outdoors further supports our physical and mental health. 

Since more and more people are living in urban environments and the availability of green space is decreasing worldwide, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to access the nature that provides these benefits. This is particularly problematic for those living in low-income areas (Who are already at a higher risk for poorer mental and physical health.) where there tend to be fewer parks, and existing ones aren’t always well maintained or safe to be in. Lack of easy access to nature, along with rapid advances in technology, can lead to forgetting our intimate connection to our environment. Taking care of our mental health is also something we rarely think about until we, or someone close to us, become ill.  Even then, it’s hard to know what to do and acting on any issue can sometimes feel so overwhelming that we don’t do anything. 

With all these benefits, we need to take what actions we can to preserve and create equitable green space access for all. It’s our responsibility to educate ourselves and once we’ve done that, educate those around us. Talk to family, friends, and neighbors about the benefits of availability and access to green space. Communicate with professional organizations and policy makers so that even if they’re educated on the issue, they realize that it’s also important to others. Most importantly, spend time in nature and encourage others to do the same, to physically demonstrate the value of such spaces. It all sounds so simple, yet it’s often the simplest acts that make the biggest difference.