Oregon City arborist: Trees and mental health are interconnected
Arborists are helping with mental health; we just didn't know it. Often arborists are needed to perform tasks with trees or shrubs that the average plant lover is not equipped to deal with, such as climbing large trees, operating heavy equipment and navigating other risks associated with tree maintenance. Although mental health is usually not the reason people call an arborist, the two seem to go hand in hand.
How do arborists and mental health connect? As an arborist with 25 years of experience, I see that the connection between the two is natural and evident from my clients' responses to a job well done. Simply knowing the health and condition of a tree eases a great deal of mental stress; oftentimes, when a job is done correctly and efficiently, I can see the relief and happiness people feel, knowing their property is well maintained and safe. But the connection between tree maintenance and well-being goes deeper.
Unlike service professionals who keep the lights on and the water draining, arborists deal with living — and sometimes damaged or dying — plant life. In "Last Child in the Woods," journalist Richard Louv coined the phrase "nature deficit disorder" to describe our culture's disconnection from the natural world and the effects that disconnection has our mental and physical health. His research suggests that nature deficit disorder contributes to public-health issues such as obesity, anxiety, depression, and other physical and mental illnesses. Numerous studies have shown that spending time with trees not only calms our sympathetic nervous system (the flight, flight or freeze network in our brains that releases stress hormones), but also boosts our parasympathetic nervous system, which maintains our immunity and helps us fight off disease.
It's no wonder that many people often seek out nature for peace, making time to visit forested areas and gardens for a mental health break from their daily stress. Having well maintained trees and shrubs in our neighborhoods allows us to reap the benefits of being in nature without having to travel too far from home.
By reducing air and noise pollution, outdoor trees and shrubs have a direct impact on the atmosphere inside our homes. In her book "Plant Therapy," psychologist Dr. Katie Cooper notes a study that shows trees outside the home absorb up to 50% of the pollutants caused by street traffic and play an important role in buffering the noise of high-traffic areas.
After 25 years of experience, my views on what I do as an arborist have shifted. I used to view maintaining the safety and function of trees as the primary purpose of my work. But over the years, I have seen that healthy trees produce healthy people, and that produced a newfound purpose as an arborist.
Oregon City resident Dustin Tillis Marchello is certified as an arborist and tree-risk assessor through the International Society of Arboriculture. He is active on Instagram @pdxforestbathing and @tillistree.
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