Green spaces aren't just for nature - they boost your mental health too.
What constitutes as 'green space'?
There is not a universally accepted definition of ‘green space’, but the most cited definition is the definition from the European Urban Atlas. They state green spaces are public or private green areas that are predominantly used for recreation such as gardens, parks, wilderness environments, private gardens, nature reserves and even recreational facilities such as golf courses, football pitches and children’s play areas. Ultimately, two main characteristics determine a green space: The main colour within the environment is green and the environment should contain natural characteristics like trees, natural surfaces, and wildlife.
The relationship between a green space and positive mental health
Several research studies have shown that spending regular time in a green space can be psychologically restorative. This means it can help restore positive emotions and feelings, enhance the efficiency of brain functions such as perspective thinking, problem-focused coping, and impulse control, and help individuals recover from mental fatigue faster.
A space for relaxation
As humans, we are designed to find non-threatening natural stimuli relaxing and calming because the natural stimuli inform our brain there is no immediate threat of danger and is safe to relax. As a result, placing yourself in a green space can lead to intensified feelings of tranquillity, peace, and positive emotional states.
Green spaces do not just make you feel psychologically better, they can also make you feel physically better. Recent research studies have shown that viewing or being in a green space can lead to reduced blood pressure, lowered resting heart rate, the reduction of muscular tension, and lower production of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Green spaces are regularly used as therapeutic interventions to help people who suffer from mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Furthermore, green spaces have also been used as a strategy to support the needs of vulnerable groups such as individuals suffering from dementia and ill-health. They have found using green spaces as a therapeutic intervention can lead to positive psychological and behavioural improvements such as increased self-acceptance, the development of a positive and realistic self-image, boosted self-confidence levels and the feelings of self-empowerment.
Reduced risk of mental health conditions
People who use the natural environment or a green space at least once a week for physical activity have about a 50% lowered risk of developing poor mental health in comparison to individuals who do not.
Finding your own green space
Scan your local area
If you do not have your own private green space such as a back garden, hop onto the internet and search your local area for recreational areas. This search should bring up a variety of options such as local parks, nature reserves, woodland areas, allotments, and garden centres. Once you have a list of options, decide on what areas/types of green space you would find most interesting and satisfying to experience.
Create your own indoor green space
Sometimes it’s not possible to visit an outdoor green space because it might be too far away, the weather might be bad, or you don’t have a private garden. So, the next available option is to create your own indoor green space. You can achieve this by buying indoor house plants, painting your walls green, and using technology to play nature sounds. If that's not enough, you could also close your eyes and use your memories to re-live a positive and satisfying experience of a green space you previously visited.
Plan in time to visit a green space
It’s easy to say you don't have any time to visit a green space when we all have several responsibilities and tasks to complete. But the time you spend viewing or being in a green space doesn't have to be long. So, we recommend that you reflect on your daily routine and assess where you could find opportunities to experience a green space. It could be changing your route to work and following a more scenic route i.e. through the countryside? It could be using 15 minutes of your lunch break to walk to a local park or recreational area. It could be waking up 15 minutes early and doing some exercise in your back garden.
Get a green space buddy
Humans tend to more self-motivated to engage in an activity when they can relate to someone else. So why not get a green space buddy? Maybe ask a friend, family member or colleague to visit a green space with you? If that's not possible, you could set a buddy goal of spending a set amount of time in your own green spaces and then share the positive effects it has had on your wellbeing.
The green space habit
If you are someone who is not used to being in green spaces, it can sometimes take a bit of time to get yourself into the regular habit of being in or viewing a green space. One way to help create a green space habit is by reminding yourself of the positive effects it has on you and taking the time to savour those feelings. As you continue to tell your brain more and more about the benefits of green space, the more motivated you will become to experience it. What can support building this habit, is pairing up the new goal/behaviour with one of your favourite routine activities, for example doing your usual indoor home workout outside in your back garden.