The Science of Improving Your Mood
Improve your mood with a taste of nature! Research shows that living in areas with more greenery — street trees, parks, and public green spaces — correlates with an improvement in health. In fact, psychologist Ming Kuo has found that "contact with nature" leads to:
- a greater sense of community and connectedness,
- lower crime rates,
- better cognitive functioning,
- more self-discipline and impulse control and
- a greater resilience to stressful life events.
In fact, in terms of direct health benefits, green spaces can help you:
- reduce blood pressure,
- improve immune functioning,
- reduce depression,
- improve mood,
- restore attention, leading to fewer accidents, improved impulse control and reduced risky behavior,
- relax — move out of a "fight or flight" state and
- resist infections and reduce inflammation.
These changes don't need you to move to greener pastures, either; Kuo observes that small changes like displaying images of natural scenes, planting a tree or two on the street, or visiting a park once a week do wonders for your mental health.
So how can you incorporate more greenery into your life?
- Open the blinds. Researchers also found that there was no significant difference between immersion in nature and exposure to nature. If you have a view of the trees from your desk, you will experience similar mood-boosting effects.
- Develop a home garden. This could be a pot with vegetables on the porch or a complete backyard garden. Look into the native species in your area and make an effort to plant those in your yard.
- Bring plants into your home or office. Real or fake, succulents can be a cute accent to your space while also aiding in brightening your mood. Meraki Design Inc. has a great guide on how to incorporate biophilic design into your life.
- If you're a teacher, consider conducting a class outside. Research conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that students were more engaged in lessons occurring after they had been outside. In addition to reaping the benefits of nature yourself, you'll also have the added benefit of stress reduction from a class that is engaged and on-task.
- Go out of your way to visit a park. If you have children, bring your children to the park to play and explore. Take walks and hikes along park trails. Consider forming a walking group of friends or family, and bring others into your quest to get out into nature. Exposing kids to nature can increase their executive functioning and encourage kids to protect nature in the future.
- Build green everyday places and views that serve multiple activities and uses. Join a group in your area that advocates for public installations like parks, gardens, and playgrounds. Ask schools, workplaces, and city policymakers to plant trees along main street, to develop a walking path around the soccer fields, or to implement a public garden at the playground.
- Participate in green activities and events. Work with local horticulture groups, farms and nonprofits to bring events to your neighborhood. These events could be walks, community sports events, farmers markets or fall harvest festivals and spring flower festivals. Form groups dedicated to getting outside, like ultimate Frisbee groups, neighborhood clean-up crews or geocaching clubs.
There's no doubt that nature can affect our mood: we see it in the relief we feel on the first warm day after a long winter of being cooped inside. We see it in the feeling of rejuvenation we feel when breathing in the smell of post-rain soil. We see it in the excitement in our children's eyes as they pick their first tomato off the vine. You don't need to live a Luddite life to benefit from exposure to nature. All you need to do is make time to get out and enjoy it.