A friend of mine has an office that I always find to be a relaxing place. A few days ago, I went there to hang out with her but something seemed different. I felt edgy and less at home. Suddenly, I was staring out of the window behind her desk and frowning. Her office has a large picture window right behind her desk. Once where there used to be greenery, loads of potted plants and a lovely view, there was now a 20-storey concrete monstrosity. It felt depressing and disconcerting. She is not the only one who is losing her greenery to construction. The lush Lahore of my childhood is now only a fond memory. Where we used to have green fields, we now have mile upon mile of construction and housing societies. And even within the older residential areas, trees are being lost rapidly.
I know we call this progress but there are side effects to living in a concrete jungle devoid of trees — most notably, increased stress and vulnerability to depression, anxiety and severe mood disorders. According to a recent study in Nature, the risk for anxiety disorders is 21 per cent higher for city dwellers while the chance of mood disorders is 39 per cent higher. Similarly, the rate of schizophrenia is almost double for people born and living in cities. Psychologists have argued that humans evolved over millions of years to survive in forests and nature. City living, and especially living in mega cities like Lahore and Karachi, is not an entirely natural phenomenon. Instincts that have developed over millennia cannot be ignored. Which is why, when we get stuck in a concrete jungle, we instinctively look to greenery for comfort. But what do you do if you don’t have ready access to a park? Does one give up on living altogether and live in the wilderness? Not quite.
Start changing your personal spaces to include greenery. If you live in a tiny space, then use potted plants to give yourself some freshness. If you have space outside your house, a kitchen garden is a good option. This has a practical as well as visually pleasing outcome. You can even hang flowerboxes out of a window or put plants on a balcony. Moving out of your personal space, one should try to go at least once a week to an outdoor space — be it a park like Lawrence Gardens, or even just a drive out to the nearest open area. Many people like to work out. For them, going for a jog or a brisk walk is always going to be a good choice when it comes to cardiovascular exercise. If you have the chance, go and explore the fabulous mountains of Pakistan. We have some of the highest and most beautiful mountain peaks in the world. No, that doesn’t mean going all the way up to the Chinese border on the Karakoram Highway. Apart from places like Hunza and Nagar, there are far more accessible places like Nathia Gali and Murree.
One thing that many of us have stopped doing is playing with small children. That’s as close to nature as any of us will get. Yet, we will buy them gadgets and keep them occupied indoors. I understand that it is hot these days, but half an hour in the park, with your kids just running around, will revitalise you for the next 24 to 48 hours. The simple point to remember is that we need to be exposed to greenery and nature just like we need to breathe air. Being in green spaces relaxes and rejuvenates our mind in a way that is not possible while staring at concrete and bricks. So, create your own green haven for your mind and body to enjoy. The calmer your mind, the healthier your body will be.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2015.
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