Stress is a psychological state developing when an individual is confronted with situations exhausting or exceeding their internal and external resources. It is the body’s way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, strength, stamina, and heightened alertness (Mirela, 2009). The term “stress” was originally defined as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change” (Selye, 1936). Other research defined stress as a process in which environmental demands strain an organism’s adaptive capacity, resulting in both psychological as well as biological changes placing a person at risk for illness (Cohen et al., 1995).
The situations and pressures causing stress are known as stressors (Richard and Folkman, 1984). Any change, positive or negative, can have a stressful impact on the human mind or body. Therefore, anything putting high demands on a person or forcing a person to adjust can be stressful (Holmes and Masuda, 1974). Stress can be generated by external stressors such as relationship difficulties, major life changes, work, financial problems, children and family, illness, or by internal stressors such as the inability to accept uncertainty, pessimism, unrealistic expectations, perfectionism, or negative self-talk (Selye, 1983).
Many major illnesses may be due to or exacerbated by stress. These can include cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, negative effects on the immune system, digestive problems, angina or coronary heart diseases, depression, high blood cholesterol, insomnia, and hyperthyroidism (Griffin, 2014). Stress is recognized as a factor in headaches; people with either tension or vascular headaches named stress as one of the leading precipitating factors (Deniz et al., 2004; Spierings et al., 2001).
Research has indicated the higher the person’s stress level, the more likely a person is to become ill (Cohen et al., 1991, 1993, 1998; Cohen and Pressman, 2005). Physical symptoms of stress include fatigue, headache, muscle tension, upset stomach, change in appetite, change in sex drive, and feeling dizzy. Psychological symptoms of stress include experiencing irritability or anger, feeling nervous, lacking energy, and feeling as though one could cry. In addition, almost half of Americans reported lying awake at night due to stress.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA, 2014), healthy behaviors used to manage stress include listening to music, reading, walking in green areas, spending time with family and friends, and praying. This research also found most of the people in the United States lack the motivation to make lifestyle and behavior changes after a diagnosis of stress, and only 35% reported they would modify their behavior following the diagnosis of a chronic condition.
Plants have a positive relationship with humans, community, and human culture. To be around plants can be beneficial to human beings (Relf, 1992). Visiting green areas in cities can counteract stress, renew vital energy, and speed healing processes (McPherson, 2000). People who live in a greener environment showed more signs of healthy living (DeVries et al., 2003). Furthermore, a study documented when college students under stress from an exam viewed plants, their positive feelings increased, while fear and anger decreased (Ulrich, 1979). Even brief visual contact with plants, such as urban tree plantings or office parks, might be valuable in restoration from mild daily stress. Views of nature had positive, physiological impacts on individuals whether they were consciously aware of them (Ulrich and Simons, 1986).
Horticulture has a long history as a treatment for individuals with a variety of diagnoses (Watson and Burlingame, 1960). Owen (1994) documented visiting a botanical garden lowered blood pressure and reduced the heart rate of visitors. A similar study showed the presence of vegetation sped up recovery from stress (Kaplan, 1993; Ulrich et al., 1991). Views of nature or visual encounters with vegetation had the greatest impact for the mental health of individuals experiencing stress or anxiety (Ulrich, 1985). Leisure in green environments provided feelings of peace and made people open to activities providing for self-actualization (Waliczek et al., 1996).
In a study in New York, researchers found community gardening had a positive effect on enhancing physical activeness and also on reducing levels of stress and mental fatigue (Armstrong, 2000). People with access to nearby natural settings or parks were found to be healthier overall when compared with other individuals, and long-term, indirect impacts of “nearby nature” included increased levels of satisfaction with one’s home, job, and life in general (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989).
The main objective of this research study was to determine if rates of stress-related illnesses in people living in MSAs of Texas were related to the levels of tree canopy cover or amount of vegetation.
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