The Many Benefits of Trees
Today, more people than not live in urban areas according to the UN, and with less exposure to greenery than ever before. Trees have been replaced by tall buildings and what was once dirt roads are now motorways - we even define some geographical areas based on these motorways, for instance ‘living inside the M25’! However, we are far more comfortable living in rural areas than in cities, and getting used to city life can take its toll. Research suggests that urbanicity is correlated with higher rates of anxiety, depression and stress (Pun et al, 2019).
Many people could probably tell you of the soothing effects of switching busy high streets or bustling market squares, for the local park or the tranquility of a botanical garden. Some adventurous souls even go so far as to venture outside the cities and towns in search of hills, rivers and moors. Scientific research can now back the claims of these seekers that nature is a balm for the soul. For instance, a therapy known as ‘tree-therapy’ (or shinrin-yoku) has since long been prescribed in Japan. Shinrin-yoku means “forest-bathing” and is a household phrase in Japan. People in distress are prescribed a visit into nature to immerse themselves in greenery. Research shows that this can have a significant reductive effect on the stress hormone cortisol (Bum et al, 2010), which can last for several days after, meaning you experience reduced stress.
A Swedish team tested the effects of sounds of nature on subjects who were made to experience stress following an artificial stress test. They found that even the virtual presentation of nature sounds enhanced stress recovery and reduced cortisol levels in participants (Annerstedt et al, 2013). Others have tested the impact of what is known as ‘green exercise’ on mental wellbeing. Green exercise can be defined as activity in the presence of nature. A meta-analysis of 10 UK-based studies found that participants who spent more time engaging in green exercise showed significantly improved self-esteem and mood compared to participants who spent less, or no time, engaging in green exercise (Barton & Pretty, 2010).
So, if city life is getting you down and you feel like you need a reprieve, your tendency to long for beaches and a cabin in the woods appears to be completely natural. Of course, sometimes you may need more than a walk in the woods when you’re in distress. However, taking some time to seek greener pastures may well provide the breathing space that you need.