Women practicing yoga under a tree with mountains in the background

World Mental Health Day is Sunday, October 10, 2021. The overall objective of World Mental Health Day is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health. Mental illness and its consequences come in many forms and has major effects on peoples’ lives worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly exacerbated the negative ramifications associated with mental illness and media attention has brought this destructive problem into better focus. While there is much written about mental health and many debates on ways to improve ones’ mental health, it is pretty universally accepted that trees have a positive impact on ones’ mental health and being around trees is good for our mental health and social well-being.

I touched upon the benefits of trees during the global pandemic in a prior blog and that trees can help provide a stress relief during these uncertain times. But the benefits of the forests was well known even before COVID-19 was part of our everyday lexicon.  The Japanese even coined a term for it: shinrin-yoku. It means taking in the forest atmosphere or “forest bathing,” and the Japanese ministry encourages people to visit forests to relieve stress and improve health. Further research in the field has identified not only the well-known benefits of trees – producing the oxygen we breathe and sequestering carbon dioxide to help negate the affects of climate change – but many health benefits as well.

Trees Improve Health in Urban Areas

Being subjected to noise, pollution, and overcrowding in urban areas, individuals in cities suffer from higher rates of almost every mental health problem as compared to those who live in the country. Frederick Olmsted, who designed New York’s Central Park, and is considered the grand-master of landscape architecture, understood the importance of trees in designing his parks around the country. While open green space has value, it is the presence of trees, and its canopy cover, that really provides a stress relief for city dwellers. Trees, as he reflects, are simple and natural but “touch us so quietly that we are hardly conscious of them.” Bird's Eye view of Central Park New York City

Trees Help Reduce Stress

Spending time around trees reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves mood. While it is always beneficial to participate in active exercise, simply sitting and looking at trees has shown to reduce blood pressure as well as the stress-related hormones. Even those with a “green” view from a hospital recovery room following surgery recover faster, have shorter postoperative stays, take fewer painkillers, and have slightly fewer postsurgical complications compared to those who did not have a similar view or no view at all.

Other Ways Trees Make Us Healthier

Exposure to trees boosts our immune system which helps protect us as we fight off disease. Spending time in nature also helps us focus, stay calmer and be more patient in anxiety-producing situations. Even in children, studies show that young ones who spend time in natural outdoor environments have a reduction in attention fatigue, and those diagnosed with ADHD show a reduction in related symptoms. Finally, exposure to tree and forests helps improve sleep and leads to increased energy levels.

Even as awareness of mental health becomes more prevalent, and promoting action at an earlier stage become more common, unfortunately there are still a staggering number of lives lost to conditions associated with mental health. The Gifted Tree makes it possible to plant a tree in memory of someone whose life was lost due to mental illness. The tree planting in a U.S. National Forest or in one of 30 countries worldwide is accompanied by a beautiful, personal tribute sent to the family which will show you care and help in the grieving process. The Gifted Tree has also partnered with Hilinski’s Hope so that you can designate that the memorial tree be planted in its grove in California and Washington, and part of the proceeds is donated to this fine organization whose goal is to educate, advocate, and eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness, especially in students. Read the Hilinski’s Hope story here.

Lone tree next to an empty bench by a lakeAs we participate in World Mental Health Day, challenge your beliefs and possibly rethink the way you look at mental health. Support others who are going through challenging times and engage in ways to boost your mental health by finding ways to decompress and relax. Finally, find ways to give, whether it is by planting a tree in memory of someone who was lost to mental health disease or volunteering your time to an organization that works with those suffering from the seven major mental health conditions: Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Psychosis, Eating Disorders, Depression, PTSD, and Addiction/Substance Use Disorder. Hopefully, your actions can help bring hope to the 1 in 5 Americans living with a mental health condition.

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