chapter  5
41 Pages

Using affordances as a health-promoting tool in a therapeutic garden

Stress-induced illnesses have become a huge global problem. According to the

World Health Organization (WHO), mental health disorders and cardiovascular

diseases – both of which are clearly affected by stress – are expected to be the

two major contributors to illnesses in all parts of the world, with mental health

disorders calculated for all age groups and both sexes, by the year 2020 (WHO,

2008). Stress is not an illness per se; rather, stress reactions are natural and

necessary – they serve to sharpen our senses and make us more effi cient. In

the event of a perceived threat, stress reactions trigger our ‘fi ght or fl ight’

refl exes that helped our early ancestors survive (Atkinson et al., 1996). During

stress, our body organs react in many different ways, and if stress is sustained

for an inappropriately long time without the possibility of recovery, these reac-

tions become dysfunctional and harmful, with the risk of causing serious and

harmful effects on all vital organs (Aldwin, 2007). For early humankind, who

lived on nature’s terms, the body’s own adaptation mechanisms were suited to

their purpose. Today, many psychiatric diseases in particular are strongly asso-

ciated with prolonged and incorrect stress reactions, the foremost being

depression and fatigue syndromes (Aldwin, 2007). The widespread exhaustion

and fatigue reactions caused by prolonged stress that we now face in Europe

are a serious problem. In its latest report, the European Working Conditions

Survey states that ‘Work-related stress is one of the most common work-

related health problems, affecting 22 per cent of European workers, and the

sectors most at risk are health and social service and education’ (Parent-Thirion

et al., 2007). The WHO has rated stress as one of the major causes of death in

the developed world, and consequently has made stress-related diseases a

priority health prevention area (WHO, 2008).