The age-old debate of Nature vs Nurture applies to the illnesses and disorders that people develop, and the hustle and bustle of city life exposes people to a number of social stressors. Frustrating social interactions, transportation issues, or workplace conflict can cause chronically elevated feelings of distress. For those who are susceptible to developing a mental illness, whether because of biological or socio-economic factors, stressful interactions with urban environments can serve as a trigger.
Statistics show that mental disorders are 38 per cent more prevalent in urbanized neighbourhoods when compared to rural towns. In particular, mood disorders (i.e. depression) are 39 per cent more common, anxiety disorders are 21 per cent more prevalent, and schizophrenia rates are doubled. Although it’s unclear whether or not this increased prevalence is directly due to stressful city living, there is at least a correlation.
Findings indicate that those who grow up in a rural vs. urban environment have lowered stress responsivity and that closeness to recreational areas positively effects well-being. Some studies even suggest that just having a window view from an apartment or work office that overlooks a natural setting can enhance memory, attention, impulse control, and one’s subjective well-being.
Researchers at Stanford University hypothesized that over-rumination, due to a lack of interaction with nature, could cause a decrease in psychological health for those who live in the city. Rumination is when negative attention is placed on the causes and consequences of our emotions, which can lead to depressive episodes if done excessively. Interactive distractions, such as going for a walk or being with friends, can keep our minds from ruminating and suppress those depressive thoughts.
In a recent study, Stanford researchers asked some participants to engage in a 90 minute walk through the city, while others were asked to take a 90 minute walk through a nature path. They measured blood flow in a region of the brain (the subgenual prefrontal cortex; sgPFC) that is usually active during rumination before and after participants engaged in the walk. Those who participated in the 90 minute nature walk had lower levels of rumination and sgPFC activity compared to those that walked through the city.
Natural environments drive positive affect through enjoyable sights and sounds, which could be why many cities maintain recreational areas. For those of you looking to escape the fast-paced city life and restore your mind without the expense of going on vacation, the GTA has many enjoyable parks, trails and natural water features that you can visit.
The warm summer weather gives us a great opportunity to get out there and celebrate what nature has to offer. Why not nurture that appreciation for nature – it may even lead to better mental health!
For more information on ways to get your “hike” on, please visit: