• Daily Stress ReLeaf,  Plants & Happiness

    #27 Does Being in Greenery Alleviate Covid Depression?

    Woman and plants, Does Being in Greenery Alleviate Covid Depression? Daily Stress ReLeaf, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/03/12/greenery-and-depression #covid #depression #greenery #trees #plants #destressing #anxiety #mentalhealth

    European researchers recently conducted a survey of 323 Bulgarian students to learn whether seeing greenery in or near their home helped them avoid sadness and depression during Covid. Though it was a study where subjects self-reported symptoms, they found some interesting answers about greenery and depression.

    One Dose of a Leafy View

    They discovered that when subjects could see an abundance of greenery, either from their home or in their neighborhood, they reported lower depression and anxiety rates. Also, to a lesser extent, subjects who tended houseplants indoors or cared for a garden outside also had lower rates of depression and anxiety. Oftentimes, people explained that the greenery made them feel like they were “away” while at home. Perhaps, even like a mini green vacation. Neighborhood greenery also facilitated social support and more frequent engagement with the greenery. And that, in turn, also led to better mental health.

    A Vacation in my Backyard

    This totally mirrors my own experience during the Covid lockdown. As I’ve told more than one friend, during summer when I went deep into my backyard, like all the way down to my back fence, and worked in the garden, I felt removed from daily life. I felt far away from the pandemic and its limitations. Far away from the pain and sadness. As I focused on the plants, my mind settled. It quieted. By the time I finished, I felt restored and happy, as if I’d gotten away from it all. The effect was like a relaxing mini vacation during one afternoon.

    The good news is spring is coming. We’ll be able to get into more outdoor greenery soon. What’s more, vaccinations are on the way. Being vaccinated will give us even more choices in enjoying outdoor greenery: parks, woods, outdoor barbecues, picnics. I hope you’ll make some time to take your own mini green vacation this spring!

    Photo by Raychan.

  • Daily Stress ReLeaf,  Plants & Happiness

    #26 Three Wonderful But Small Trees to Remember Lost Loved Ones

    Wichita Blue Juniper, Three Wonderful But Small Trees to Remember Lost Loved Ones, Daily Stress ReLeaf, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/03/11/trees-to-remember/(opens in a new tab), #trees #dailystressreleaf, #plants #covid #memorial #remember #lovedones #smalltrees

    For me, March 11th, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of our Covid-19 lockdown. At this time last year, my kids were packing for a marching band trip to Ireland that sadly never happened. Schools closed and our lives changed drastically. Though we lost loved ones, they weren’t from Covid but we know several people who’ve lost loved ones from Covid. My friend’s father died. A friend’s bus driver died. A colleague’s mother died. Regardless of how our loved ones died, they died. Most of us are mourning someone. But if we plant trees to remember them, we honor their lives. Here are three trees that are beautiful but small enough to plant in a city garden.

    Chandler’s Cypress
    Chandler Cypress, Three Wonderful But Small Trees to Remember Lost Loved Ones, Daily Stress ReLeaf, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/03/11/trees-to-remember/(opens in a new tab), #trees #dailystressreleaf, #plants #covid #memorial #remember #lovedones #smalltrees #cypress
    Chandler Cypress

    Chandler’s Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Chandleri’) grows to 12 feet in an elegant wispy structure. It’s dense and darkly alluring. Also, this conifer is virtually disease-free. In full hot sun, I’d say it’s hardy to zone 8.

    Wichita Blue Juniper
    Wichita Blue Juniper, Three Wonderful But Small Trees to Remember Lost Loved Ones, Daily Stress ReLeaf, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/03/11/trees-to-remember/(opens in a new tab), #trees #dailystressreleaf, #plants #covid #memorial #remember #lovedones #smalltrees
    Wichita Blue Juniper

    Conversely, Wichita Blue Juniper (Juniperus scopularum ‘Wichita Blue’) is hardy down to zone 3. This makes it a great choice for most of the U.S. It’s a tough conifer growing to about 15 feet tall and about 4 feet wide. It has an icy blue color and requires little to no maintenance or pruning. It loves full sun and is virtually disease free.

    Hinoki Cypress
    Hinoki Cypress Tree, Three Wonderful But Small Trees to Remember Lost Loved Ones, Daily Stress ReLeaf, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/03/11/trees-to-remember/(opens in a new tab), #trees #covid #remember #memorial #plants #dailystressreleaf #hinokicypress #oils
    Hinoki Cypress

    When I mentioned in my forest bathing article that breathing in a conifer’s essential oils boosted NK cells, I was referring to the oil from a Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gracilis’). This little tree’s slender and lovely, growing in evergreen fans that display a coppery tinge in winter. It’s a graceful tree native to Japan and often used in screening but works as a specimen too. Again, it’s hardy to zone 4 so most anyone in the U.S. can grow it.

    If you’ve lost a loved one this year, I wish you comfort and peace.

    Photos of Juniper and Hinoki Cypress courtesy of Monrovia.

  • Daily Stress ReLeaf,  Plants & Happiness

    #25 It Is Official, Flowers Make People Relax

    Dahlia, It's Official, Flowers Make People Relax, Daily Stress ReLeaf, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/03/11/flowers-make-people-relax/(opens in a new tab), #dailystressreleaf, #plants #destressing #stress #relaxation #dahlia #flowers #mentalhealth

    In my last post, I talked about the amazing effects of forest bathing. Today, I want to talk about another study that Japanese researcher Yoshifumi Miyazaki conducted. It shows some interesting results on whether flowers make people relax.

    A Small but Key Study

    Miyazaki’s team wanted to see if there were any changes in the body when subjects looked at flowers. So he had 127 people gaze at pink roses while the team measured their sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous activity. These two states happen when you’re stressed or relaxed. From the baseline, they found that subjects who looked at pink roses had lower sympathetic nervous activity (stress) by 25 percent. They also found those subjects’ parasympathetic nervous activity (relaxation) rose by 29 percent. So bottom line? Yes, seeing flowers makes the human body relax.

    A Small Flower Has Big Worth

    Though this study doesn’t get into why flowers relax people, we can guess it has to do with how we’re biologically wired. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how our eyes align with fractal patterns in nature and I suspect that relationship has something to do with it too. Regardless, if you’re feeling stressed, you might lift your mood by buying a bouquet from the supermarket. Maybe by looking at a lovely photo on the web. Maybe by growing perennials in your backyard. Whatever the method, getting flowers into your life will be worth the cost and trouble. And the best part for gardening nuts like me? We can now justify all those impulse buys from the nursery. Science shows we need them for our mental health!

  • Daily Stress ReLeaf,  Plants & Happiness

    #24 The Amazing Effects of Forest Bathing

    Forest, The Amazing Effects of Forest Bathing, Daily Stress ReLeaf, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/03/11/effects-of-forest-bathing/ #forestbathing #effects #shinrinyoku #Japan #woods #nature #relaxation #destressing #stress #mentalhealth

    By now, you may have heard of forest bathing. Though it has a dreamy Western name, it’s really just the act of mindfully walking among trees. Researchers started investigating its health benefits in 2004. Dr. Qing Li, a professor and immunologist at Nippon Medical School and vice president of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine, along with Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a researcher at Chiba University, were the first to scientifically explore this phenomenon. Until that time, the country’s forestry department had started the program as a healthy lifestyle choice. Now, thanks to their and others’ studies, we’re learning the amazing effects of forest bathing. Here are three biggies.

    It creates NK cells

    The most impressive effect is how well the human body creates NK cells. NK is a shorthand term for a type of white blood cell that protects us from disease. Dr. Li found that after Tokyo businessmen spent two hours hiking every morning for three days, their NK count shot up by 40 percent. When he investigated further, he discovered that inhaling the trees’ essential oils had boosted the subjects’ immune systems. Conversely, the subjects who walked for the same duration over the same three days in the city did not increase their NK count.

    It lowers stress hormones

    Professor Miyazaki found that people who walked in the forest for 15 minutes lowered their stress hormone (or cortisol) concentration by 12.7 percent. Also parasympathetic activity (relaxed state) increased by over 100 percent. To him, this makes perfect sense since our bodies evolved in nature over thousands of years and inherently yearn to be at one with it.

    It boosts creativity

    Have you ever noticed you solve problems after taking a walk? Well, David Strayer from the University of Utah found that creativity shot up 50 percent in subjects who spent three days in nature. The prefontal cortex is less active in nature. That rest allows your brain to wander and make random connections, leading to problem-solving and creativity.


    These are the most well known effects of forest bathing but the science continues to grow and support the practice. And just to clarify, this doesn’t mean you have to backpack into the Alaskan wilderness. As Dr. Li says, “This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.”

    I hope you can get into the woods this weekend and immerse yourself in all nature has to offer. It just might improve your mood.

    Photo by Daniel Sessler

  • Daily Stress ReLeaf,  Plants & Happiness

    #23 What Happens When We Don’t See Nature as a Necessity to our Well Being?

    Canal Path, What Happens When We Don't See Nature as a Necessity to our Well Being? Daily Stress ReLeaf, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/03/08/nature-as-a-necessity/ #nature #necessity #plants #mentalhealth #outside #relaxation #destressing #stress

    Yesterday, I recommended the book The Nature Fix for those who want a compendium of the latest research about the healing effects of nature. Today, I want to spotlight a study in that book that I thought was incredibly revealing. It shows how we often miscalculate the benefits of spending time in nature. We see it as a luxury but we often don’t see nature as a necessity. Our mental health suffers as a result.

    A Psychologist Gives Students a Choice

    The psychologist Elizabeth Nisbet at Trent University in Ontario followed 150 students as they either walked outside by a canal or through one of the campus tunnels. Both routes arrived at the same destination. Beforehand, students had to fill out a questionnaire on how they thought they’d feel on their walks and then another one afterward to report their well-being. Nisbet found that “although outdoor walks in nearby nature made participants much happier than indoor walks did, participants made affective forecasting errors, such that they systematically underestimated nature’s hedonic benefit.”

    Because participants commonly underestimated how happy they’d feel afterward, they chose not to walk outside as often. That, in turn, created a kind of nature-avoidance loop. Generally speaking, when people choose not to go outside, they don’t know what they’re missing out on. Meanwhile, their mental well being doesn’t heal or advance. Then, once that avoidance attitude takes hold, they not only get outside less often but they don’t value the environment as much, which, in turn, lowers their valuation of sustainable practices, etc.

    In the end, we may feel like the “environment” or “nature” is something apart from us and far away. We may still feel a sense of ennui or stress but the idea that a walk along a canal or in a park can alleviate that seems silly or like it won’t work. There’s just one solution: to get outside and find out! I hope, if you have a choice, you’ll consider taking a walk outside today. Afterward, I bet you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel.

    Photo by Jako janse Van Rensburg