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All pictures here are the author’s

Ten years ago, the United Nations reported that more people live in urban regions than rural areas. The global organization said it expects more people to do so in the next years, but it has also noted a gradual trend or movement of people who prefer spaces that are closer to nature.

With the concrete jungle being populated rapidly however, the quest for fresh air and breathing space has become a daily reality but only when people feel tired or stressed out and long for some quiet through a gap among tall buildings that show a piece of the blue sky, or a patch of green outside in a park with trees and plants.

Not only do work environments cause undue stress on people, but also the health impact of climate change. The World Health Organization said cities and highly urbanized towns both offer the best and worst environments for health and wellbeing, such as the convenience of having available and accessible transport and the air pollution and the hassle of traffic, plus the rising temperatures.

I’m a speck in this universe of the worst and the best, as I live in a city in Metro Manila that constantly widens roads but also attempts to put plants everywhere – on footbridges, building walls, walkways, highway lanes and even a bikini island located at the intersection of two monolith malls.

My immediate neighborhood is a blend of business and residential establishments; hence, I sometimes wake up to someone belting out a song from a nearby videoke joint. But there are mornings when the birds crowd over my plants on the veranda, looking for anything to peck on, such as crumbs.

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In the afternoons when I hit a blank while writing, I hear them again. I just step out quietly for a few minutes then watch them fly out one by one when they noticed a human nearby.

Researchers in Finland found that people feel psychologically restored after just 15 minutes of being outside in a park or forest, so they advised people who are mostly employed indoors to take a stroll or sit for a while on a bench.

“If you can, walk 45 to 50 minutes in a city park,” said the researchers, who said this can be possible during the regular hour-long lunch break. But if one is caught up with too heavy a mental or emotional load at work, it is best to step out and have the “15- minute dose of green and blue.”

“Look at the sky. Stare at green leaves. It will boost your moods, memories and concentration and yield changes to the brain. You will feel more creative.”

Psychologist David Strayer of the University of Utah in the US also point to the importance of “putting away mobile phones and paying attention to sounds and sights of nature” even just for a few minutes.

“When people use their phone, their attention (to their surroundings and themselves) is cut in half,” he said. He said the idea is to engage senses and interrupt the weight of urban stress and restore psychological balance.

We all have our romantic notions of nature, but many experts say we don’t have to be in an idyllic or breathtaking place to connect to it. We just shouldn’t lose sight of what is in our surroundings that makes us feel better, even if they don’t resemble heaven.

Posted by Diana G. Mendoza

Diana G. Mendoza is an independent journalist and communications professional who loves to walk and daydream.