More than half of us live in urban areas, assailed by crowds, noise and petrol fumes as we career around our concrete mazes. It’s no surprise this lifestyle can lead to stress: a 2010 study found city dwellers have a 21 per cent higher risk of anxiety disorders. But bringing a little bit of nature into your routine can go a long way to taking the edge off city life. Here’s how to do it.
Create your own natural haven
You don’t need green fingers or a back garden to bring your environment alive and create a peaceful haven at home. Rubber trees, peace lilies and snake plants are easy to grow indoors and bring green to the scene. Herbs such as mint are simple to care for and add a pinch of freshness to meals. Window boxes, hanging baskets and bird feeders can add an explosion of colour and scent in the summertime, and bring butterflies and birds fluttering around. If you can’t get out into the wild, bring it to you.
Ditch the gym membership
Gyms are expensive and can be stressful: long queues for machines, the animal grunts of muscle heads, trying to avoid a sweat shower from the head-bobbing treadmill runner next to you. Save yourself the grief and get your exercise outdoors. Run, or join the growing movement of adult tree climbers, in a local park. Find a cycling team that will take you away from the city for the day. Join a Tai Chi club that practices outside in the peace of early morning. Doing so will save you money and reconnect you with green spaces you may have forgotten about.
Blue for the blues
There are few things more soothing than the roar of the ocean or the babble of a brook, and it is surprisingly easy to get some water into your city life. Half of the world’s population lives within 60 kilometres of the sea; three-quarters of all large cities are on the coast. It can be as simple as a short hop on a bus or train to get your toes in the water. Even inland cities often have rivers, canals and streams that offer contemplative spots to sit and rinse away the stress. Find a bit of blue to wash away the blues.
Learn your urban nature
Many of us can’t tell our oaks from our pines or our ravens from our crows, so everything can tend to blend into one. But there is an astonishing variety of trees, plants, birds and other animals in our cities, many of them adapting to life with humans in fascinating ways. Learn how to recognize your local flora and fauna, take a few moments each day to look around and see what you can see, and you will quickly find yourself marveling at the natural world all around you.
Get on the nightshift
There is something special about the early hours before dawn in a city, the silence and stillness a peaceful contrast to the normal chaos. And the animals take full advantage. Foxes, coyotes, raccoons, bats and rabbits are just some of the creatures you won’t see in full daylight. Get yourself up early, or stay up late, and go on a nighttime urban safari to appreciate just how wild your city really is.
Forage for food
The days of hunter gathering are long gone for most of us, but if you want to take your new-found appreciation for nature further, you will be amazed at the fun you can have, and the money you can save, by foraging for food in your urban environment. Edible berries, fruits, roots and leaves are all around us, and there are communities springing up around the world that can help you get set up. Just be sure not to eat the hallucinogenic mushrooms or anything poisonous.
Volunteer with a conservation organization
Pretty much every city in the world has at least one conservation organization working on something related to nature, be it cleaning up polluted environments or caring for abandoned or wounded animals. Joining in to restore a green space or rescue a bird with a broken wing won’t just help plants, animals and your community: it will make you feel better.