By Beau Black
Why is being in the great outdoors so helpful to our mental well-being? The benefits of spending time in nature have long been understood, and their value in therapy is beginning to be accepted and documented by psychological research. That’s sprouted into a branch of treatment called nature therapy, or “ecotherapy,” which combines the benefits of outdoor activities with techniques like team-building or confidence-building exercises.
On average, we spend much less time outside and in nature than we did 30 years ago. More of us live in cities that are themselves growing and changing. And living in urban environments, for all their advantages, can also take a toll on us in the form of cognitive, emotional, and physical stress. Higher blood pressure and heart rate, bodily tension, and weaker immune response are all attributable to this, according to the University of Minnesota’s “Taking Charge” project. Conversely, they report, “Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress, and increases pleasant feelings.” It also helps to lower blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.
Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress, and increases pleasant feelings.
The particular benefits of being in nature have been seen for decades through programs like Outward Bound and Scouting, both of which focus strongly on outdoor activities and are now being noted, for all ages, in the resurgent popularity of outdoor workouts.
According to VeryWellMind.com, a variety of outdoor activities can be useful as nature therapy, including farming, raising or tending to farm animals, and adventure or wilderness activities. These can range anywhere from camping and whitewater rafting to rock climbing or even more obscure activities like “forest bathing,” a meditative practice in which you use your five senses to experience a forest. Research also shows that just being near aquatic environments like oceans, rivers, and lakes can have a psychologically restorative effect and improve your mood.
How Is Nature Good for Your Health?
Tapping into our primeval connections with nature, EcotherapyHeals.com compiled some examples of how ecotherapy can help both our physical and psychological well-being: Patients with high blood pressure are prescribed time in nature as part of their treatment; gardens or nature walks are created at hospitals to improve socialization and stress relief, and wilderness retreats offer guided nature tours to help teenagers or adults learn coping skills and build confidence.
EcotherapyHeals.com also lists some of the other benefits that can accompany nature therapy:
- Lowered stress
- Reduced social isolation
- Increased confidence
- Reduced risk of depression
- Improved focus
- Increased motivation to exercise
- Improved relaxation
- Sharpened problem-solving skills
Nature Therapy for Children and Adolescents
Today, more kids spend more time in front of a screen than outside. (More adults do, too.) These changes can lead to higher stress, more depression and isolation, and more ADHD in children. Research shows that nature therapy can potentially help with all of these problems, and may be especially useful in treating children and adolescents.
Today, more kids spend more time in front of a screen than outside. These changes can lead to higher stress, more depression and isolation, and more ADHD in children.
In 2018, The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health published a first-of-its-kind survey of scientific studies on the effects of nature on children and adolescents. It examined a variety of 35 studies and observed among the most significant findings:
- Access to and engagement with nature helped reduce stress.
- Outdoor therapy or participation in outdoor programs helped build resilience in children.
- ADD/ADHD symptoms improved with time spent in nature (which advocates for the inclusion of outdoor recess in school schedules).
- Overall mental health also improved with time spent outside, as did “health-related quality of life.”
Getting Nature Therapy However You Can
Interestingly, it may not take much outside time to yield benefits from ecotherapy: VeryWellMind.com reports that a minimum of 10 minutes in natural settings can make a definite improvement in our mental well-being. It can improve focus, memory, cognitive flexibility, and attention. Additionally, research from college student-related studies showed that time spent in nature improved symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression, all of which are widespread problems among that population.
Because not everyone lives where they have easy access to nature, below are some suggested alternatives to getting outside:
- Put house plants around your living space, workspace, patio, or balcony
- Incorporate pictures of nature as screensavers and wall or shelf décor
- Play nature sounds to help with relaxation
So, who knew just how beneficial it could be to spend time with Mother Nature? Whether you make time to get outside or find ways to bring the outdoors in, the results will be worth it as they prove valuable to your health.
To learn more about other therapies beyond ecotherapy that can help improve mental wellness, visit us at Claudia Black Center Young Adult Center. We have decades of experience treating a variety of conditions by personalizing a treatment plan that is specific to you. Contact us today to see how we may help you in your journey to good health.