There’s a difference between solitude and loneliness said Dame Maggie Smith. It’s true. You can be perfectly content and connected while in solitude yet feel lonely when in a crowded room. And according to some experts, the current global pandemic is creating a loneliness epidemic of its own, especially among young adults and seniors.1 While there are benefits to spending time with yourself, loneliness isn’t one of them. Depression, anxiety, dementia, a greater risk of heart disease, and more have all been associated with loneliness.2 Recent research on the benefits of spending time in green spaces to alleviate loneliness, however, is promising, especially in urban areas.
One study found that overcrowded environments (urban areas) increased feelings of loneliness by a staggering 38%, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, education level, or occupation. When people were able to interact with green spaces or hear birds or see the sky, however, perceived loneliness dropped by 28%.3 Another study proposed that a possible mechanism to explain the link between green space and reduced loneliness is the sharing of familiar natural settings that help to enhance mood and interrupt rumination. This is thought to provide collective relief from social anxieties and enable people of all ages to play and connect with each other in meaningful, life-affirming ways.4
If loneliness is lessened by contact with nature, improving access to high-quality green and blue spaces (think trees!) in dense urban areas may help people feel less lonely noted one study.5 New Jersey’s Urban & Community Forestry Program understands this and works to promote the stewardship of urban and community trees and forests. To that end, the program awarded resiliency and tree planting grants in 2021 totaling $1,307,989, the majority of which went to municipalities containing one or more overburdened communities.
But don’t wait until you feel lonely to enjoy all the benefits trees and green spaces provide and don’t wait until the weather is warmer to get outside. One study noted that while urban greening might help to reduce the odds of becoming lonely, those who are already lonely might need more support6.