Back to Our Roots: Capturing Nature’s Mental Health Benefits Through Green Spaces

By Sydney Cooper – April 7, 2023

Designing green spaces takes more than aesthetics into consideration; it keeps our mental health in mind.

Study after study has shown that exposure to green space can benefit our mental health, reducing our risk for mood disorders, depression, anxiety and even suicide; this improvement in stress and disposition can even be helpful in preventing chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

Designer Lori Cassady of Ethos Behavioral Health Group, a family of healing centers focused on mental health and substance use recovery, notes that having any connection to nature, even stopping for five minutes during your day to soak it in, is very grounding.

“It helps you connect to the present moment and has a lot to do with positive mental health, which can translate into good physical health,” Cassady says.

What is Green Space?

Green space is a blanket term for any area of nature. Parks, forests, lands and even backyards can serve as green space, but the term is commonly used to refer to dedicated, green-filled areas where people can experience nature within urban surroundings — and it’s trending up in recent years. Most cities, and even many suburban areas, have implemented green space within their bounds, creating space for citizens to capture the advantages of nature’s calming, mood-boosting effects, and many people have created natural spaces in their own backyards.

Person walking outside.

Nursery owner and principal designer Amy Hovis of Eden, an award-winning landscape design and build firm in Austin, believes green space should be more than just a yard or park.

“Anything has the potential to be green space,” Hovis says. “But in my opinion, it should have some connection to nature, some habitat for wildlife and insects.”

Harnessing the Benefits

Access to green space is beneficial, but when it’s designed well, it’s even more advantageous. Hovis believes in incorporating elements that bring people outside, whether that’s a bathtub to bathe your children each night, a space for yoga and meditation, a comforting tree to sit under, or simply a table and chairs to have coffee or a meal.

“What we’re focused on is much more than designing a beautiful space; it’s creating a place to draw people out of their homes and into nature,” Hovis says. “When people spend time outside connecting with nature, they are happier, calmer and more at peace.”

Cassady notes that even five minutes of walking can improve our outlook on life and, through this, help prevent chronic disease. When visiting or enjoying green space, Cassady recommends putting away all technology to make the most of your time, along with engaging your senses.

Person meditating outside.

“Focus on what you can see, smell, touch and hear, and try to slow your breath,” Cassady says. “This can help calm your nervous system and even your racing thoughts.”

Bringing it Home

If you’re unable to go to a park or trail, Cassady says even observing nature has been shown to improve mental health.

“Consider opening a window in your home or office that looks out on trees or grass,” Cassady says.

At Eden, Hovis likes to create vignettes from her clients’ windows: little scenes to brighten their day and bring in nature.

“Maybe that’s a special tree that changes its leaves each season, or maybe it’s a playground where your children swing,” Hovis says. “What would you choose as a backdrop for your life?”

Ultimately, Hovis says it’s necessary to build and use green spaces so we don’t lose them.

“It’s so easy to sit inside all day, but we need to prioritize nature and make it part of our lives,” Hovis says. “That way we can make sure it’s something we never let go of.”

About the Author

Sydney Cooper spends her time at Pop Ratio, helping companies like Ethos Behavioral Health Group — a family of healing centers focusing on mental health, wellness and substance use recovery — with marketing and communications, including public relations, content creation and more.


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