Ecotherapy and Mental Health

In recent years, researchers and members of the scientific community are finding proof that ecotherapy, also known as green therapy or contact with nature, can truly have some profound effects on mental health. Some studies find that it can be just as effective against depression as medication or psychotherapy. This therapy is very low-cost and readily available to lots of people. Although ecotherapy is just entering the arena of researched therapies, it is something ordinary people have been doing since the beginning of time, and noting its calming effects.

In 2007, researchers at the University of Essex surveyed a group of people with depression and they found that 90% of them had a higher level of self-esteem after a walk through a country park, and 75% felt less depressed. The control group walked through a shopping center. Only 45% of them felt better, and 22% actually felt more depressed. Another one of their surveys shortly after found that 94% of people with mental illnesses believed that contact with nature put them in a more positive mood. Since then, UK mental health professionals have been integrating ecotherapy and other holistic treatments into their care plans.

Other studies also show that time in nature can lift depression, improve energy, and boost well-being and mental health. A 2006 study found that time in nature, physical activity, and social connectivity help significantly in early intervention and treatment for chronic mental, emotional and physical health difficulties. In 2010, the Journal of Environmental Psychology showed that spending just 20 minutes outside per day boosts energy levels. The research showed that “people with improved vitality are also more resilient to physical illness” said Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. Interestingly, the same study proved that even though taking walks in nature lifts depression, the prevalence of depression is significantly higher in people who live in rural areas compared to urban areas in the US. This difference may be due to social isolation in rural areas. Finding a good balance between social connectivity and time in nature may be key for optimum results.

Nature can fill us with a feeling of well-being and connectedness. Going for a walk in the countryside, seeing the trees, fields, and sky that seem to be alive and beautiful, feeling the breeze, breathing the fresh air. It can feel fun like spending time with animals or pet therapy. It is filled with sensory pleasure that can help take our focus off negative thought patterns. It almost serves as a mantra, putting us in a meditative state. Contemplating natural scenes fills us with harmony, energy and inner joy.

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Being confined to man-made environments has only been our condition in recent times. Our evolutionary predecessors spent a lot more time outside and lived a lifestyle closer to nature. In many ways, spending time in green spaces feels relaxing, like going back home.

Likewise, walking is a great form of non-strenuous exercise. It burns calories, releases our endorphins, and improves muscle tone. It is great for our happiness and physical health much like sports therapy. There is also an added bonus, very little chance for injuries.

Sunshine can also lift depression. Vitamin D is generated by our bodies from cholesterol only when the skin and eyes are exposed to sun. Vitamin D is important for lifting depression because of it’s involvement in our brain chemistry. It helps generate the “happy” neurotransmitters in our brain. We need at least 5 minutes of sun on our face and hands every day, even in the wintertime to avoid a deficiency of vitamin D and happiness.

If you’re ever feeling down or depressed, try a hike instead of retail therapy or medication. You may be surprised how you start to feel better. With spring approaching, take advantage of the great weather and try this newly-found, but old, therapy for yourself. You can get started just by stepping out your front door!

 

References

Busak, Lecia. “Benefits Of Ecotherapy: Being In Nature Fights Depression, Improves Mental Health.” Medical Daily. N.p., 26 Oct. 2013. Web. 04 May 2015.

Taylor, Steve, PhD. “The Power of Nature: Ecotherapy and Awakening.”Psychology Today. N.p., 28 Apr. 2012. Web. 04 May 2015.

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