Green cities and mental wellbeing: a vital connection
Nikki Schuster, CEO of Renew Counselling and Training, Chelmsford
We’re delighted to see Chelmsford for You bringing Green City back to our local area this week. The event is an important reminder of the environmental issues that affect all of us, bringing a programme of fun and inspiring events to our city to help the local community explore ways that we can be more green.
As a counselling charity, we’re aware of the intricate relationship between our surroundings and our wellbeing. From the therapeutic power of green spaces to the emerging challenge of climate anxiety, it’s evident that our mental health and the environment are inextricably linked.
The Healing Power of Green Spaces
Stepping into nature is more than just something nice to look at – it can often be a balm for our minds. In fact, studies from organisations like the Mental Health Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund reveal a connection between access to green spaces and mental health.
Research has shown that being in fields, forests, parks, and gardens reduces the risk of mental health problems while enhancing mood and overall life satisfaction; while engaging in outdoor community activities like gardening, walking, and conservation can prevent and improve both mental and physical health issues. Bringing together nature and community activities can help individuals feel a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and belonging that inherently bolsters their mental wellbeing.
Green spaces are a vital part of any city, as they help us take a break from the everyday hustle and bustle and give our minds a chance to relax. The sights, sounds, and smells of nature have a calming effect that can reduce stress and anxiety. Plus, when we’re out in nature, we often end up moving around more, which releases feel-good chemicals in our brains and makes us feel happier.
Just being around green spaces and fresh air can also help us think more clearly, and can even make us more creative. Whether it’s taking a stroll in the park or tending to a community garden, spending time in nature is a mental boost that makes us feel better and more connected to the world.
Climate Anxiety and Mental Health
Unfortunately, our environment and its troubles can also have a negative impact on our mental health. As we become more aware of the climate crisis, the number of people experiencing climate anxiety (or eco-anxiety) has increased. The Lancet’s 2021 report, which surveyed 10,000 children and young people across ten countries, highlighted the prevalence of climate anxiety and its impact on daily functioning. This anxiety arises from concerns about the detrimental effects of climate change, coupled with a perceived lack of meaningful government response.
Understandably, the distress, anger and anxiety triggered by climate change issues can lead to a range of negative emotions that can interfere with daily life. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s Public Perceptions Survey found that 60% of people in the UK felt that climate change has had a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing. For 16 to 24 year-olds, the figure was 73%.
Climate anxiety can manifest in many ways, such as depression, heightened anxiety, and feelings of sadness. It becomes a problem when it starts having an effect on your everyday life, e.g. interfering with daily routines or disrupting eating and sleeping habits. You might keep thinking and worrying about the future all the time. If you have struggled with your mental health in the past, you may be more susceptible to climate anxiety. Counselling can be a helpful tool in addressing climate anxiety, as you can work with your counsellor to explore strategies to cope with those overwhelming feelings – from getting involved with local environmental projects to finding reasons to feel positive and hopeful.
If this is something you have struggled with, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. We’re committed to providing low-cost, accessible and responsive counselling for a range of issues, including anxiety.
Mental and environmental wellbeing
The threads connecting our mental health and the environment are undeniable. It’s therefore vital that we come together as a community to protect and nurture our planet, knowing that our efforts translate into improved mental wellbeing as well.
As we take part in this year’s Green City events, please join me in making a personal commitment to protect our mental health by caring for our environment. Every small change we make will help each of us to feel empowered, reminding us that individual actions have the power to shape the world around us.