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Paint all your walls green, now

Or simply head for the hills. There’s a lot of anxiety in Hong Kong and one of the best ways to alleviate it is to spend time in the nearest patch of green forest. While most people know green is associated with calmness, it has a secret power that scientists are just beginning to understand. Aleesha Naqvi reports

EXPERIMENTS HAVE SHOWN that the calmness associated with the colour green is so strong that you don’t even have to see it with your eyes to feel its influence.  Your skin will detect it.

In an experiment at the Aalborg University of Copenhagen, researchers blindfolded their subjects and connected them to EEG machines to register their brain activity.  The subjects were then exposed to different colours of light. Colours like red and blue, felt on the skin, made the brain more active. But when the subjects’ skin was exposed to green light, their brains’ became more calm and relaxed.  The subjects could experience the relaxation and calmness of the colour green through their flesh. We can too. 

Green light can be felt even with your eyes blindfolded. Image by Nerosable/ Pexels

Colour psychology tells us that the colour green positively affects thinking, relationships, and physical health.  In one study, a green-lit environment improved the reading speed and ability of the subjects, while a red-lit space did the opposite.  Green is also known to alleviate stress and has many mental health benefits. 


Now consider this: despite the fact that Hong Kong is a jam-packed place with more skyscrapers than New York and London put together, it is also one of the world’s greenest great cities. In one survey it was number six, with Moscow at number one. More than 70 per cent of Hong Kong’s land mass is undeveloped. A large chunk of this is country park, which is, quite literally, the precise shade of green that cures anxiety.

Government land-use map shows a lot of scrubland, grassland and open space. Image from HK Govt.


These days, when we see the word “green”, it’s often not actually referring to the color. “Greening” is used to describe the process of transforming your environment into a more sustainable version of itself.  This can refer to a physical space, such as your office or home. But it can also be about greening your mindset and creating good habits that will decrease your carbon footprint.  Right now, Hong Kong is undergoing a massive greening process to transform the city into a greener, more sustainable place.  The government is focusing on three main eco-strategies: greening, landscaping, and tree management. 

The environmental benefits of greening include the improvement of water and soil quality, enriching biodiversity, and helping cool down during warm periods.  Greening also helps dampen noise, making the city calmer and more peaceful for its residents, and reducing noise pollution.  By purifying the air, green spaces improve respiratory health and decrease the risk for cardiovascular diseases. 

Hong Kong’s small space combined with a love of engineering means that a lot of analysis is done about the greening of the city, both metaphorically and literally.


Both types of greening benefit mental well-being. Studies show that living in a green space or having visual access to nearby nature improves workers’ productivity, reduces stress, improves grades and concentration in schools, and lessens the symptoms of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). 

A study done by psychologist Marc Berman at the University of Chicago states that green spaces boost thinking aspects such as attention, memory, and creativity in people with and without depression.  According to psychologists, the colour green nudges your brain to be more balanced, leading to decisiveness, hence increased concentration and attention.  


Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health issues in Hong Kong, with 41% of university students having depression and 25% of secondary students demonstrating clinically-high levels of anxiety. 

Many do not seek help because of the social stigma surrounding mental health disorders, 71% of survey respondents said they were unwilling to live with people with mental illness, and 41% believe that a “lack of self-discipline and willpower” is the main cause of mental illness. 

This is not true, nor is this narrative helpful to people with mental illness.  The increase in mental well-being problems is not only in the younger generations and youth but 61% of adults currently suffer from poor mental well-being.

About 40 per cent of the land has been preserved as country park or protected areas that cannot be built on. Picture by HK Planning Department.


Green spaces and natural parks are clinically proven to improve mental health and lower blood pressure. Surveys show that 74% of Hong Kong residents with mental illness refuse to or are too ashamed to seek help from professionals, preferring to find their own ways to cope. 

An increasing number of studies show that green spaces provide people with a calm, peaceful, refuge that they can go to and associate with being calm and happy.  Even with visual access to green spaces, (i.e. a view of nature), concentration increases and stress decreases.  Hong Kong has 24 natural parks that are open to the public. 

Greening not only improves Hong Kong’s urban environment but also helps heal us all. Investing in a greener future is investing in one which is both healthier and happier.

Models are used to help with information sharing. Picture by HK Planning Department.


If you want to get involved, go to the Hong Kong Leisure and Cultural Services Department website, although the annual Hong Kong Flower Show was cancelled this year due to Covid-19, there are other activities to participate in.  You could participate in an active tree planting activity on Community Planting Day.  Most importantly, raise awareness of the importance of greening in Hong Kong, and do your best to transform your mindset towards being more environmentally friendly. 


If you want to go one step further in helping the environment, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has an option for you, where you can adopt a tree and pay for the planting. (The tree can be tracked with an app.)  By adopting and planting a tree, you are making a positive socio-economic impact by empowering local farmers and helping the environment by slowing down greenhouse gas emissions.  Go to this link to learn more about adopting a tree.

Image at the top from Pixabay

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