Leading psychologist reveals best ways to beat blues by going green

by Search Gate staff. Published Tue 15 Jun 2010 10:55, Last updated: 2010-06-15
Gardening boosts mental well-being

Leading psychologist Professor Geoff Beattie has revealed the best ways of beating the blues by getting closer to nature.

The Dean of Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester and resident psychologist on the Big Brother TV series has issued a series of green tips to boost mental well-being.

His advice follows a research review of data from the last 25 years, which reveals how exposure to gardens and other outdoor spaces can impact on the well-being of the general public and affect mood and behaviour.

It was revealed that nearly 13 million Brits could be putting their well-being at risk by failing to spend enough time in the ‘right kind’ of outdoor space or garden.

According to Professor Beattie's report negative emotions such as stress, apathy or anxiety can in fact be a result of a lack of exposure to well-maintained, appropriately designed, and leafy gardens or outdoor surroundings.

It identifies the triggers as:

* Over exposure to concrete or overly built up environments.

* Over exposure to noisy, busy and over-stimulating environments.

* Poor natural light balance – whether too bright or too dingy.

* Poorly maintained spaces – messy areas full of rubbish, clutter or dead plants and flowers.

* A lack of fresh air.

* Remaining within a building for too long, without any natural view available.

* Refusing to connect with or appreciate any outdoor space with a ‘head down, keep moving’ attitude.

* Competition for green space – for example fighting crowds in a busy city centre park on a sunny lunchtime.

The report, which was commissioned by leading woodcare manufacturer Ronseal, also identifies the most “at-risk” groups, including:

* People in towns and cities are more likely to be affected but those in more rural areas are not immune if they fail to spend enough time in the right kind of outdoor space.

* Younger generations, including students and young professionals, can be particularly at vulnerable. This is due to the fact that many live in flats, apartments or shared accommodation, without a garden or any outdoor space.

Professor Geoff Beattie comments: “Individuals should ensure they have regular access to green spaces and communal gardens where they can relax and take in all that nature has to offer. Gardening not only helps keep people physically active, but the structured timeline involved in gardening can also be extremely beneficial for those who have retired and may no longer have the day to day rhythm of a working routine.”

Top tips for combating the complaint

Take time

• Spend at least one hour a day outside in a green, well maintained and attractive garden or outdoor space. The exposure has a major restorative effect, helping you to unwind and diverting your interest and attention without being overwhelming in terms of stimulation.

Make the most of whatever you have

• Whether it’s just a window box, balcony or garden, natural views elicit positive feelings and block or reduce stressful thoughts.

• Try and ensure you maximise the views of nature from your home or office – perhaps opening blinds or repositioning furniture in daylight hours.

Are you sitting comfortably?

• Research shows sitting in a garden or outdoor space has a particularly restorative effect. Invest in some good quality wooden furniture, which enhances rather than detracts from the view and make sure you protect and maintain it from the elements with a quality wood protector.

• Make sure there is sufficient shade – being hot and sweaty and suffering from dehydration will not aid relaxation.

Flower power

• Plant colourful flowers in borders, wooden troughs or windowsill boxes.

Keep on top of things

• Keep your outdoor space well maintained. Poorly maintained, overgrown and unkempt gardens are likely to cause negative and have a bad effect on mood. If something needs work it is likely to play on your mind. Broken or poorly looked after furniture or fences will evoke similar responses, spoiling the natural environment and acting as a constant, stressful reminder of work needing to be done.

• Cover and conceal - whether it’s inside or outside the home, it’s easy for small areas to get cluttered. Try concealing your clutter with clever storage. A shed is a great way to do this if you’ve got the room - and you can even custom make sheds to fit your space. Alternatively, invest in a couple of deep hinged storage boxes, which can also be used as seating. Opt for timber to blend with the natural environment, as plastic can look unsightly.

• Urban gardens in particular can often look, and feel, grubby. A good clean up will energise your outdoor space. A good starting point is to freshen up your fences, walls, paving or any grimy surfaces by using a garden cleaner. Look for one that is chemical free and safe around children, pets and plants.

Get closer to nature

• Install a water feature - the sound of trickling water acts as a stress reducer and aids relaxation.

• The sound of nature - listen to a recording of natural sounds such as birdsong or a babbling brook. This will help to block out the over-stimulating sights, smells and sounds of the urban environment.

• Work with wildlife - plant flowers, trees and plants that are high in pollen and nectar as they are a great source of food for wildlife such as bees or butterflies. Bird tables and feeders are great way to attract avian life into your garden. Fill with pre-made seed mixes and protect the wood from splintering and rotting by using a water-based wood preserver. All creatures need water to exist, and building a pond will benefit countless species, not to mention produce a really calming effect in your garden.

Get active

• Get involved! The research shows the actual process of gardening and planting flowers is better for improving mood state than merely observing the results. It reduces stress levels and in addition provides a sense of pride and identity which is extremely beneficial.

Minimise disturbances

• Counteract noise and pollution by creating screening between roads and your home. Solid walls tend to rebound noise so try planting thick evergreen hedging or erect a fence and line with hedgerows, which will help to absorb the noise and to keep out dust and pollution. If fencing is too imposing for your space, try erecting some light trellising and plant hedging up against it. Again the thick foliage will help to reduce noise and make it look even more attractive and even if it only softens the noise level incrementally, you’ll be surprised what a difference it will make to your overall well-being.

James Smith, Marketing Director at Ronseal, comments: “Many people concentrate their time on making the inside of their homes comfortable and relaxing, but end up neglecting the outdoor areas, leaving them messy, chaotic, or depressing to spend time in.

"Perhaps surprisingly, our research found that cities worst affected, include Cambridge, where 40% of the population live in flats, maisonettes or apartments followed by Oxford and Bristol (38%) and Birmingham, where 28% of the population are subjected to lack of green space.

"This report is all about showing people of all ages and backgrounds, that by taking a few simple steps, and by using the right products, they can avoid negative emotions.”

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