The study showed that stress levels of unemployed people are linked more to their surroundings than to all other facts that could be contributing to stress — including lack of disposable income. The presence of parks and woodland in economically deprived areas may help people cope better with job losses, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue, and anxiety.
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The key lay in the color green. Researchers specifically found that people’s stress levels were directly related to the amount of green space in their area. In other words, the more green space you live in, the less stressed you are bound to be.
Researchers measured stress by taking saliva samples from a group of middle-aged adults, and measuring levels of cortisol. That is a hormone released in response to stress. They found that if less than 30% of a person’s surrounding area was green space, its population showed unhealthy levels of cortisol.
The study shows that, for every one-percent increase in green space, there was a corresponding steeper decline in stress levels. Where there is more green space, people tend to respond better to disruptive events, either by not getting as stressed in the first place or by coping better. This suggests a calming, meditative effect that nature has on people (and probably brings smiles to the faces of people who don’t live in the big city).
Participants were also asked to self-diagnose their stress levels and these results directly related to the percentage of local green space. People with more green space had lower levels of self-reported stress. The research was published in “Landscape and Urban Planning;” probably the first time Doctors Health Press has ever quoted a study from its pages!
Given the impact of stress and the difficulties that poor mental health present, this study represents a solid health breakthrough. For the first time, researchers worked with unemployed people and employed scientific tests to show that stress is lower when your access to green space is higher. An interesting note was that exercise did not matter. It certainly helps, but simply living around green spaces contributed to this calming effect.