It is a gorgeous summer day, but you’ve been stuck in the office all day, running around like a hamster in a wheel, signing papers, jumping from a meeting to a meeting, and maybe even having a heated argument with someone. Your stress levels are on the rise and you feel like you’re about to explode. You need to get out for a breather. You rush outside and anticipate that breath of fresh air, but instead you find yourself in the middle of a bustling city, where people scurrying around, pushing each other aside by accident (or not!) to make their way. Angry drivers beep the horns in the traffic jam, each sound adding a drop of anxiety to your already wound up brain. You decide to take a short walk and turn into a quieter alley. You feel a little better now, away from the noise and commotion, but you’re not yet mentally relaxed. A car zooms past, trying to escape the traffic. There is a van unloading the goods at the back door of a local shop. The sudden noises startle you. Your eyes spot some rubbish on the sidewalk that should not be there. There is still too much going on to let you relax.
But you follow the path and, all of a sudden, it leaves you at an iron-wrought gate, concealed in a stone wall overgrown with ivy. Curious, you push the gate open and gasp as you find yourself inside a secret garden with luscious greenery and clean, fresh air. The sun shines brightly. Birds cherub hopping from one branch onto another. Bees buzz, hovering above the flowers, collecting sweet nectar. A kaleidoscope flutters by, their colours iridescent in the sun. The garden is booming with activity, but it is so harmonious and subtle it does not drain you, in fact, it fills you up with the sense of completeness and fosters your curiosity. You walk deeper into the garden and find a little meadow by the pond. You sit down on the carpet of the soft, juicy green grass and dip your toes into the cool water sparkling in the sun. A little breeze blows and tickles your skin, and you feel the stress melt away. Your head is clearer, your body is relaxed, your heart beats steady. You are calm, and each new breath fills you with happiness.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a place like this, where you could come and feel your troubles melt away? Where you could simply be, here and now? Where you could feel that the nature and you are one?
What is Green Space and Why do we need it?
A green space could be anything and anywhere: a park within a city, a meadow in the countryside, a river bank, a lakeside, a garden, a green balcony, or even a green corner inside your house. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated – just green. But the benefits of a green space should not be underestimated.
A green space is an oasis in the desert. When you are thirsty and exhausted, a green space is a drop of cool, fresh water that your brain needs. Figuratively speaking, of course. If you are actually thirsty, you grab a glass of real water.
Being in a green space, or generally in nature, offers a range of health benefits to us because, essentially, we are (or once have been) part of nature. We are, as I like to say, the extension of it – much like any other living creature. But somewhere along the way of our intelligent, human life we have forgotten how to belong to nature. We have forgotten how to be a part of it. As a result, we have this void inside of us that we cannot fill with something else, other than the nature. In order to fill that void, we need to go back to our roots, to the very beginning of us, and practice being one with nature once again.
Green Space and Your Wellbeing
The benefits of being in a natural, green space for your wellbeing are many. So let us take a closer look!
1. Lower Stress Levels
Researches consistently find a link between exposure to green spaces in the environment and lower stress levels both in adults and children. One study, in particular, has found a link between higher green space and lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as lower levels of perceived stress.
2. Better Mood and Productivity
Besides the lowered cortisol and stress levels, green space further boosts the mental health by reducing anxiety, alleviating depression and boosting the cognitive function. A study found that access to green spaces for children promoted self-discipline, boosted their learning abilities and reduced the symptoms of ADHD. We can safely assume that these findings apply to adults as well, and we can also benefit from boosted productivity and better mental health.
3. Improved Physical Activity
Access to green spaces promotes physical activity, be it a simple walk in the park, or a run, or even yoga. It stimulates our desire to be physically active while enjoying this space. And physical activity, in itself, boosts your mood and cognitive function, reduces stress levels, and helps with anxiety and depression.
4. Improved Breathing and Health
We live in a very toxic, very polluted world – this is a sad reality. Trees and plants, however, counteract this pollution by purifying the air. Plants breathe in the CO2 from the air, which they break down for nutrients, and breathe out the remaining oxygen, thus diluting the concentration of CO2 and toxic substances in the air. Green spaces in the cities are that very oasis where we can come and have an air therapy. Cleaner air, of course mean, better breathing, healthier lungs and, therefore, healthier brain and body.
5. Better Sleep
It may be the effects of the purer air, but natural, green spaces are also associated with better sleep patterns and better quality of sleep. Being out in the natural sunlight also helps to tune your internal body clock, bringing it closer to the circadian rhythms, which are important for a restful night sleep.
There are way more benefits that green spaces can offer, not all of it is currently studied or well understood. Green spaces are associated with lower blood pressure and heart rate, and better immune function, possibly due to its microflora and the natural essential oils that the trees and plants emit. It cultivates the sense of belonging within the community.
On the other hand, deprivation of green spaces, such as in highly developed urban settings, has an opposite effect and leads to anxiety, low self-esteem, increased blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels, poor cognitive function and immune system. These effects show in our daily life as a short temper, excessive fatigue (both physical and mental), poorer ability to cope with the stressors, lower productivity, etc.
The truth is that even without knowing the full list of benefits, we still feel that instantaneous boost in mood and energy whenever we found ourselves surrounded by the trees or nature. We can breathe easier, we tend to smile more. Life gets that little bit brighter. It is a natural boost of dopamine, the happiness hormone, and it is enough to leave us waiting for more.
Creating A Green Space
In Ireland, we are lucky in the sense that we can find green wherever we go, year round. However, it is not enough sometimes. Often times we spend too much time inside, whether at work or at home. We underestimate the preciousness of spending time outside in green spaces. And the weather is often not on our side.
Living in urban areas poses its own difficulties. We may have a tree planted here and there, and maybe a tiny town square with a couple trees and flower beds, but they are not enough to close us in that green space. We can still see and feel the presence of urbanisation, concrete buildings, cars… Not every town has a park offering generous green space, sheltered away from the urban setting. If you are in Dublin, you could walk into Stephen’s Green and forget that you are in the city. If you are somewhere like Athlone, this becomes trickier. If it weren’t for the new park near the Regional Sports Centre, there wouldn’t have been a proper green space to go. Yet having only one is not enough. We should strive to have more.
Even in the countryside it can be tricky, if you are in Ireland, as almost every little bit of land is privately owned and we don’t always have the freedom to go wherever we want. Getting to most green spaces involves driving, which is neither healthy (as opposed to walking there) nor eco-friendly, and also means that those spaces are not easily accessible. We can only hope that with the growing body of research showing the benefits of green spaces, the government and local councils will take the initiative to create more green spaces in urban areas.
Fortunately, you can create your own green space that you can easily access any day when you are at home. It may involve a bit of splurging on landscaping and buying plants, but ultimately it is a home project that will serve you for many years to come. By the way, gardening is also a green activity that is proven to be very beneficial for all the same reasons as simply being in a green space. Gardening is a great way to incorporate mindfulness into your routine, it can melt away the stress and allow you to mentally relax and recharge. It can even fill your life with a sense of purpose – an added bonus when you are feeling lonely or lost. And you get to enjoy your green space come to life twice as much as any other green space because this one was created with your own hands. It is very rewarding.
Ideas for Your Own, Private Green Space
Your Garden, Your Sanctuary
You have two options when it comes to your garden:
You could turn it into a manicured lawn, or you can turn it into a magnificent sanctuary. Both options can be as high or as low maintenance as you wish, but the result will be quite different. In the end of the day you could be looking at a boring, albeit evenly trimmed lawn which, if overgrown, will drive you mad; or you could be looking at the luscious green garden, harmoniously buzzing with life.
Depending on how much time and money you are willing to spend, you could plant trees and shrubs to create the green canvas, plant flower beds and landscape your green space; or you could scatter your boring lawn with seeds of wild flowers (to keep the bees happy) and bring in some potted plants, which may look just as good.
Put some climbing plants on your fence or cover it with trellis, and your garden will transform in no time. Hang strings of fairy lights, add a comfortable chair or maybe a swing. The garden will soon become your most favourite place.
P.s. If you think I am too late posting this as the sowing season is gone, take note that the best time for planting tree saplings, for example, is autumn – so you have time to plan out your future garden.
No garden, no problem.
You can use your balcony space to create a little paradise where you can enjoy your morning coffee along with the green therapy.
Depending on the available space, put potted plants outside, use hanging plants, fix some plants to the balustrade or make a green wall. The more greenery, the better. Add a few lanterns or fairy lights and a comfy chair (or a hanging chair, space permitting). Besides coffee, this makes a perfect place to read books, write in a journal or watch sunrises, sunsets and stargaze (especially at the time of Perseid meteor showers near mid-August).
For ultimate inspiration take a look at this Pinterest board. By the way, all of these ideas could be applied to a porch!
Oasis on your Window or your Wall
If you haven’t been blessed with a garden, porch or balcony, you always have a window sill or at least a corner in your room, which can serve as your green therapy room.
Choose a window (or a few) and put potted plants on the window sill. Place them in the corner, or hang them on a wall. You can even turn the wall into a living wall. Apart from having a green, relaxing corner in your house, the plants will also purify the air in the room. Check Pinterest for some green space ideas.
Sacred Green Space in Your Mind
I have a bonus tip for you that may change your life forever.
Visiting or creating green spaces oftentimes are time, weather and budget dependent. But there is just one green space, that may not necessarily offer all the benefits of the above mentioned green spaces, but has a range of benefits of its own. This green space is in your mind.
The green space in your mind can be accessed at any time. You can go there for a minute if you only have a minute, or you can go there for much longer. This green space does not depend on seasons or the weather, and visiting it has no cost. It is a safe space, sacred space indeed. You just need to learn how to access it.
First, find a comfortable, quiet place. It may be your bedroom, or a cosy corner of your sitting room. It may be at your work place if you can find a place where no one will bother you.
Once you have found it, sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Take a deep breath and exhale it softly, for at least as long as it took you to inhale it. You can also count at the start: for example, inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 4 or 5. After several deep breaths, allow your breathing to fall into a natural rhythm, without count.
Next, imagine yourself in a green space. It may be a real looking green space, maybe a meadow or a pine forest, a little glen with a babbling stream. Or it may be a dreamy place, with bright green grass and trees, dazzling blue sky and shimmery rainbow. You may imagine being a tiny creature among the jungles of grass, dew drops sparkling on the tips of its blades. Imagine being in a place that makes you feel happy and relaxed, that has no room for worry, anger or anxiety; a place in which you are peaceful, in which you feel the bliss. Hold this space in your mind and keep breathing for as long as you have time or until you feel relaxed and recharged. Finish off by gently bringing awareness to your body: gently move your hands and feet, maybe roll your neck, and then gently open your eyes, keeping a soft gaze for a moment until you are ready to focus on the world around you.
Notice how relaxed you are after this little meditation. I can tell you that even writing this made me feel at peace.
I hope this post gives you plenty of idea of how important green spaces are in our life and how you can create your own green space right at your home, or even in your mind. I still suggest you visit a park or countryside whenever you have some time as it will offer more benefits than you can imagine. But having a splash of leafy green in your house is a great idea to add this extra layer of relaxation to your life.
Hope you enjoyed this post.