As warmer weather arrives, you may be looking forward to enjoying your favorite outdoor activities. Whether you love to bike, hike, swim, surf or simply enjoy long walks in your neighbourhood, research shows you’re doing something wonderful for your body, mind, and spirit.
The growing field of ecotherapy – also known as nature therapy or green therapy – is based on the understanding that as humans, we are part of the web of life. By strengthening our relationship with nature, we can actually reduce the effects of everyday stress and improve our overall wellbeing.
Connection with the earth and its systems is the foundation of this emerging form of therapy. Many experts believe that the earth has a self-healing capacity that operates through complex systems of integrated balance. When people harmonize with these systems, they often experience better mental health.
HOW NATURE SOOTHES OUR SPIRITS
A growing body of research shows the healing benefits of time spent outdoors. In one study conducted by psychologist Terry Hartig, participants completed a 40-minute task designed to induce mental fatigue. Afterward, they were randomly assigned to spend time walking in a nature preserve, an urban area or reading while listening to music. Participants who walked in the nature preserve reported less anger and more positive emotions than the other two groups.
In a similar study conducted by Mind, a mental health charity, a nature walk reduced symptoms of depression in more than 70% of participants, compared with less than half of those who walked through a shopping center.
The beneficial effects of nature result not only from what we see but also from what our other senses experience. For example, one study showed that people recovered more quickly from psychological stress when listening to nature sounds such as a babbling brook than when they were exposed to traffic sounds.
GREEN VIEWS CAN ALSO EASE SYMPTOMS
While direct contact with nature has many benefits, you don’t need to spend hours in a green environment to feel positive effects.
Several studies have found that a mere glimpse of nature from a window or even photographs of nature can improve people’s overall mood, mental health, and life satisfaction. For example, researcher Robert Ulrich found that heart surgery patients in intensive care units felt less anxiety and needed less pain medication when they viewed pictures of trees and water. Another study found that workers who enjoy views of nature from office windows report higher job and life satisfaction than those who can’t see outdoors.
WAYS TO BENEFIT FROM ECOTHERAPY
Here are some of the many forms that ecotherapy can take. One or more of these activities may benefit you, especially if you are struggling to deal with chronic stress, anxiety or depression.
Nature meditation: Practicing meditation in a natural setting such as a park or wooded area. Often, this is done in groups, with people identifying qualities of nature that attract and sustain them. For example, an older person struggling with feelings of worthlessness might develop greater self-respect after reflecting on how the older trees in a forest provide shelter for birds and shade for young plants. This activity usually ends with group members sharing what they learn.
Horticultural therapy: Working in a garden can be refreshing and richly rewarding. Activities may include digging soil, planting seedlings, weeding garden beds or trimming shrubs and trees. Counsellors often recommend this therapy for people experiencing stress, burnout and substance abuse. It has also helped military veterans who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Exercise in a natural environment: This can be as simple as walking, jogging, cycling, or doing yoga in a park. These types of activities foster increased awareness of the natural world and are often recommended for reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and anger.
Involvement in conservation activities: The act of restoring or conserving the natural environment can create a sense of purpose and hopefulness. Since this activity is usually done in groups, it may also foster a sense of belonging and connectedness while improving your mood.
FINDING YOUR NATURAL BALANCE
As an experienced therapist working with individuals and couples in the Edmonton area, I am here to support you in creating a peaceful, balanced life. Nature can be a positive element in a broader plan to help you overcome anxiety, depression or other mental health issues you may be facing. Reach out now to schedule a counselling session at a time that’s convenient for you.