In the more than two years I have been living in Hong Kong, the pockets of green dotting the city have served as a balm to my soul amidst my usually very busy life. With the stresses of COVID-19, it has become even more of a refuge.
To most of the world, Hong Kong is an urban jungle with tall buildings and concrete walls all around. But much lesser known are lush green havens in the midst of Hong Kong, offering pockets of calm to people who want to take a break from the hustle and bustle of urban life. An example of these urban oases is the Kowloon Bird Park located right in the middle of Tsim Sha Tsui. It is a public park with rich facilities. At the center, you can find the Bird Lake and Aviary. There is also a green and verdant Chinese Garden and an exercise path for those who want to get close to nature while keeping fit. Another example is Victoria Park found in the heart of Causeway Bay. The lush gardens and facilities surrounded by greenery will make one forget of being in the city. There are many more places like these that offer tranquility in the midst of Hong Kong. And residents and visitors alike are grateful for this opportunity to experience nature within the busy streets of the city.
Retreat to nature
We find ourselves retreating to nature when we feel sad, anxious, or helpless with what’s going on around us. The world as we know it seemed to change overnight. With the worldwide lockdowns and restrictions, the global economy is severely affected and recession threatens the status of numerous businesses. This causes a lot of anxieties. To add to that, social distancing is the new norm, making it harder to stay close to beloved family and friends. Then, of course, there’s the fear of contracting the coronavirus which, at the time of writing, has already infected over 21 million people worldwide and claimed the lives of nearly 800,000 people. Hong Kong residents seek refuge in these pockets of nature within the city especially amidst the turmoil and anxiety brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Man and nature
Did you know that there is such a thing as nature-deficit disorder? The author of the bestselling book “The Last Child in the Woods” Richard Louv says, “It is the loss of connection of humans to their natural environment. Staying close to nature improves physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. It makes us feel alive from the inside, and we should not compromise it for recent developments like urbanisation, technology, or social media.” That’s why any built surroundings need to incorporate nature because it has always been a part of us.
Former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once said, “A concrete jungle destroys the human spirit.” We have always depended on nature. It nourishes every aspect of our lives.
The bond between human and nature is a tale as old as time. Ecotherapy is a growing field of science that seeks to prove the strong connection between us. Researchers from the University of Minnesota aptly identified the benefits of spending time in nature; that nature heals, restores, soothes, and reconnects.
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Studies show that spending time in nature reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. Researchers have found evidence that the experience lowers a person’s blood pressure and cortisol level, the stress hormone in our body. This produces a calming effect, soothing our body’s fight-or-flight response. According to Dr. Strauss, Director of Geriatric Psychiatry at Cambridge Health Alliance, “Having something pleasant to focus on like trees and greenery helps distract your mind from negative thinking, so your thoughts become less filled with worry.” Dr. Strauss recommends spending time in a natural environment for 30 minutes at least 2-3 times a week for us to tap into the powerful effect of nature in our mental well-being. It is good then that Hong Kong has pockets of nature tucked within the city and very accessible for people seeking to find peace during this pandemic time.
Nature refreshes us mentally, emotionally, and physically. The natural environment offers peace and serenity that help us clear our minds from the stresses of daily life. It promotes mindfulness and gratitude for what we have. This helps boost our mood and positive vibes that we can take with us when we go back to the urban setting. Being in the outdoors also encourages physical activity which in turn helps release endorphins or happy hormones.
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Numerous studies have shown that nature helps people recover from illnesses and helps soothe away the pain. Dr. Robert Ulrich shared that patients who had a view of nature in their rooms exhibited better pain tolerance, fewer negative effects to treatments, and faster recovery.
There have also been studies that show how nature connects us to other people and the outer world. During an experiment, a look into the brain activity of participants who viewed scenes from nature showed that part of the brain associated with love and empathy lit up. But when the participants viewed an urban setting, those parts of the brain that were activated were those associated with fear and anxiety.
Bringing the outdoors inside
Interest in home gardening has been on the rise. Aquasprouts, an American company selling miniature gardens, reported a huge crease in sales not just locally but also in the international market such as Hong Kong. Gardening gives people something worthwhile to do during their prolonged time at home. It is also a stress-reliever and a form of therapy as gardeners gain a sense of control over their environment in contrast to the uncertainty surrounding them.
There are also studies that suggest that we can experience the soothing effect of nature by just listening to the sound of nature from our homes or even looking at pictures of nature.
Hope floats in nature
As David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist from the University of Utah says, “At the end of the day, we come out in nature not because science says it does something to us, but because of how it makes us feel.” A walk in nature is a walk back to our very home where our soul finds peace and comfort. Nature inspires us to keep going. Nature gives us hope and during this time of uncertainty, we need all the hope we can get.
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