When we talk about the value of the natural areas in San Marcos, we tend to focus first on recreation, on what the trails mean to hikers and mountain bikers. We might also think about practical benefits like flood prevention, and perhaps science education. More and more, however, psychologists are pointing to the importance of green spaces for our mental and spiritual well-being. This connection has become even more obvious during the pandemic, especially among those of us who were isolated at home.
In 2019, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a study of 46,786 city dwellers older than 45 years in Sydney, Australia. What researchers looked at was the relationship between total green space, tree canopy, grass, and other low-lying vegetation and psychological distress, depression, and fair to poor general health.
Broadly speaking, they found that “[s]imply being in, nearby, or with a view of green space may help to build capacities for better mental health, contribute to restoration of depleted cognitive capacities, enhance recovery from periods of psychosocial stress, and even increase optimism. Amplification of these mental health benefits may occur in part as a result of social and physical recreation within green spaces. Nearby green space can also contribute natural, biodiverse soundscapes that soothe, dampen chronic noise, and potentially even disrupt the effect of socioeconomic disadvantage on mental ill-health.”
More surprising, they discovered that natural areas with trees had a far more positive effect on an individual’s mental state than did a comparably sized space with only grass. Further, researchers concluded that the biodiversity associated with more tree canopy increased that benefit significantly: “For people engaging in passive recreation relating to biodiversity, such as bird-watching, or other forms of recreation, such as walking, tree canopy is likely to be an important part of that experience and the benefits that accrue for well-being.”
The Summer 2020 issue of American Forests Magazine makes the same argument based on similar studies: “At a time when our screen-obsession is increasingly linked to anxiety and COVID-19 has left many feeling isolated and distressed, it’s no wonder doctors are urging patients to unplug and spend time outside. Some physicians are writing ‘nature therapy’ prescriptions. And ‘forest bathing,’ a practice from Japan in which people use all of their senses to immerse them- selves in nature, has become one of the hottest wellness trends.”
To read more about the relationship between trees and psychological health, click here.