Stay home and get some rest. Go shopping. See a doctor and he’ll give you something. These are common recommendations when a person is feeling worry, anxiety, stress or depression. But there is another alternative.
Go outside. Take a walk. Get some exercise and fresh air. Connect with nature.
Although these are not new recommendations, a growing body of research indicates that they’re right on point. Nature therapy (also known as green therapy, ecotherapy, and earth-centered therapy) is gaining momentum as an effective and legitimate way to treat the mental fatigue, stress, and anxiety that are rampant in today’s accelerating, hectic world.
Mental Health and Nature (Or the Lack of It)
The therapeutic effect of nature on the human psyche has long been known. But as society “progresses,” there is a growing disconnect with the natural world. Increasing urbanization, the deteriorating environment, lack of green spaces, fear of crime, and addiction to technology have contributed to this. In western society people are more detached from nature than ever before.
Nature therapy is based on the idea that we are inextricably connected to and affected by the natural world. Hundreds of studies have shown that taking a walk, or a more strenuous hike, in a calm, quiet, beautiful setting reduces stress and anxiety. All of the senses are engaged; the tranquil and inspiring scenery, the sounds of birds and running water, the fragrances of flowers and vegetation, the feeling of fresh air and breezes – these all have a powerful therapeutic effect. Add to that the known benefits of physical exercise, and it’s easy to see why spending some time connecting with nature is good therapy.
Nature Therapy Programs
Nature therapy programs are not just walks in the forest or backpacking trips. They are structured and designed to bring maximum emotional and psychological benefits to the participants. Some aspects of nature therapy are:
- Meditation. This can be done individually or in groups. Members identify something in nature that affects them positively and then spend time contemplating it.
- Horticulture therapy. Plants and gardening can have a cathartic effect, and activities such as digging, planting, trimming, and weeding help participants to destress and connect not only with nature but with other participants. Antisocial behavior is thus addressed.
- Physical exercise. The variations are countless, from walking in a forest, park, or near a river or lake to jogging, cycling, or outdoor yoga. Physical activity stimulates the body to produce endorphins, which are natural stress reducers.
- Conservation activities. Helping to protect and preserve the environment can give participants a sense of purpose and community.
- Animal therapy. Time spent interacting with animals, such as a dog, can reduce anger and stress and create a sense of belonging.
Nature therapy is an emerging field with a growing number of proponents and advocates. Many practicing therapists are licensed counselors or psychotherapists who have chosen to incorporate nature therapy into their practice.
So if your doctor or therapist tells you to take a hike, don’t be offended. It may just be the perfect prescription.