by John Sommersby
Did you know people living in neighborhoods with shrubs, trees, and more birds are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and stress?
Research done by the Academics of the University of Exeter surveying the mental health of over 270 people confirms that is the case.(1)
The study further confirms that people who spend more time indoors were more likely to suffer from anxiety.
So, what is exactly is anxiety?
Understanding anxiety in people
Anxiety is not just a feeling where you’re worried and stressed. It is a serious medical condition characterized by constant worry making it difficult for people to cope with the daily demands of life.
We have all been anxious, but then people diagnosed with anxiety cannot control their feelings. People of all ages can be challenged with anxiety with adults being more than children.(2)
There is no clear cause for anxiety, but imaging studies have shown abnormal brain activities in specific regions of the brain.
Research has further shown anxiety can be caused by things such as:
- History of anxiety in the family
- Work stress
- Stressful events like changing schools
- Physical health problems
- Personality factors
- Drug and alcohol abuse
There exist several types of anxiety disorders with the most common being the; Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Panic Disorder among others.
Treatment of anxiety can help people reduce, manage or even eliminate the symptoms altogether. However, having a look at your lifestyle and environment can help prevent anxiety in the first place and even reduce its symptoms.
How environment and lifestyle can affect anxiety in people
Statistics from the World Health Organization, (WHO) shows that depression affects over 120 million people worldwide.
Depression/anxiety is the third leading cause of death worldwide, and projections show that it will be the leading cause of death by the year 2030.
A study done by the University of Minnesota and other institutions shows that(3) older people in poor areas that are prone to violence, are at a greater risk of suffering from anxiety in their lives than their counterparts in other places. The research was published in the Journal of Health and Place on 23 Jan 2017.
More depression and anxiety symptoms in older people living in areas with higher poverty rates and homicide show the effect on the environment on anxiety. What is it about poor neighborhoods that people tend to be more stressed?
Older people do not move a lot and tend to rely on the amenities provided in their neighborhood. When such amenities lack, people tend to suffer stress considering this are the same neighborhoods with high violence cases.
The study went on to show the crucial role violence plays on the mental health of people already lacking basic amenities. More research is needed to find out the relation between poor neighborhoods and anxiety, but more is about identifying pathways to shape the mental health of people in search areas.
How we interact with the environment can determine whether we suffer from anxiety or not.
The research by the academics at Exeter University in England shows that people who live in neighborhoods with more birds are less likely to suffer from anxiety.
The study shows the role the key components of nature play on the mental health of individuals. Birds being around our homes can help reduce anxiety in affected people. It shows the important role birds, trees and shrubs play in our lives and how living in a place that feels natural can help reduce anxiety symptoms.
How does anxiety relate to our health problems?
When we worry, we are putting our health at risk. People with anxiety generally end up suffering from some form of illness related to their anxiety or depression. Research conducted on 7000 people for 12 years showed a relation between anxiety disorders and heart diseases.(4) Over 73 percent of the people with heart diseases in the study had one form or another of anxiety in their lives. While this relation is just observational, it does show there is a link between anxiety and heart diseases.
We all know constant anxiety and depression can take a toll on the physical and mental health of people. No scientific evidence shows the link between anxiety and heart diseases, but this does not mean we ignore the observational results.
You need to talk to your doctor if you feel anxious persistently and seek medical advice. Some treatment can be given by a doctor, but in most cases, you can be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist. However, staying in a healthy environment is always the best preventive cure to anxiety disorders. Having a bird fountain and trees on your backyards goes a long way in keeping you in a good mental state.
- Daniel T. C. Cox, Danielle F. Shanahan, Hannah L. Hudson, Kate E. Plummer, Gavin M. Siriwardena, Richard A. Fuller, Karen Anderson, Steven Hancock, Kevin J. Gaston. Doses of Neighborhood Nature: The Benefits for Mental Health of Living with Nature. BioScience, 2017; biw173 DOI: 10.1093/biosci/biw173
- Anxiety and Panic Disorders, Perth Brain Centre 2015, https://www.perthbraincentre.com.au/anxiety-and-panic-disorders-treatment/ Access date: 3rd March 2017
- Spruha Joshi, Stephen J. Mooney, Andrew G. Rundle, James W. Quinn, John R. Beard, Magdalena Cerd . Pathways from neighborhood poverty to depression among older adults. Health & Place, 2017; 43: 138 DOI: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2016.12.0031.
- Berge LI, Skogen JC, Sulo G, et al Health anxiety and risk of ischaemic heart disease: a prospective cohort study linking the Hordaland Health Study (HUSK) with the Cardiovascular Diseases in Norway (CVDNOR) project BMJ Open 2016;6:e012914. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012914
Dr. John Sommersby, a Neuroscientist; writes on health related topics. Neuroscience and the healing of brain based disorders is a particular interest of his. He has been an advocate of neurological rehabilitation for people with acquired brain injury for the past twenty years.