How studying in green spaces can help your mental health

June 06, 2017
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It’s approaching exams season, making it likely that you’re going to be spending a lot of time inside. Sometimes it feels like the only way to get all your study done is to spend all day in the library or locked away in your house. But, did you know that this lack of the outdoors could be affecting your stress levels and mental health?

A recent study called the GROW horticultural therapy program wanted to understand the connection between lack of green spaces and mental ill health. By implementing a rooftop garden in Sydney’s CBD, they found that most participants saw improvements in their wellbeing with access to and interaction with plants and nature.

Could Mother Nature be what you need to help with your mental health?

If you don’t have a green space of your own, find one

For a lot of us, we don’t have our own gardens. Maybe you rent a pokey apartment or live in a share house where the only form of greenery is a dead succulent. Living in these high-density environments can increase our isolation, with the lack of green spaces sometimes reducing our social interaction. Fiona Orr, a lecturer in mental health nursing at UTS, says that participants really benefited from “Fresh air and sunshine… because they don’t usually have a lot of access to green space.”

Some of the benefits included experiencing feelings of enjoyment and restorative health. So if you don’t have a space of your own, it might be time to seek one out.

Take your coffee breaks outdoors

Whether it is because of study-related stress or a long-term anxiety disorder, we all need to find ways to relax. In these moments, why not try to head outside? Sara Wilkinson, Associate Professor at the School of the Built Environment, says it doesn’t always have to be a big gesture, even “…something as simple as going outside for a coffee or afternoon sandwich” can help.

The bond between humans and nature has been long discussed as a way to feel centred and calm, a particularly important release for a lot of mental health sufferers.

Connect with plants and people

Immersing yourself in green spaces isn’t just about beautiful surroundings and clean oxygen, it’s also a way to get active and amongst other people. Joining a local community garden would enable you to benefit from regular interactions with others and could see you develop genuine friendships. Fiona Orr says these connections are vital in the healing process for mental health sufferers.

“The connections to other people, and to plants and nature and having something to nurture and take care of.”

Great for mental health suffers... and everyone else

The study set out to find if a lack of green space and mental ill health were connected, which the findings suggested to be true. One of the studies’ participants was quoted saying that access to green space is “Central to [their] recovery and ongoing mental wellness”, but Fiona Orr believes that “Anyone could benefit”. During the eight-week GROW study, Fiona herself found that she “…couldn’t get to the garden quick enough each week.” She found that she “…always left feeling relaxed, happy and like [she’d] contributed.” Leading her to state that “…if you’re human... you can benefit.”

So, whether you suffer from a mental health issue or are just finding yourself feeling like you’re lacking the goodness of the great outdoors – give yourself a little bit of time each day and go outside. 

Tahlia Svingos

Tahlia is a media/journo student from the University of Adelaide. She probably wrote this in the bath.

Image: Legally Blonde