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The fact is, one in five Americans suffer from some form of mental health issues, and this number was only exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic that uprooted everyone’s typical lives. Nature therapy, also known as ecotherapy, is an umbrella term for therapy that is nature-based. Ecotherapy is a concept that draws its roots from the idea that when people connect with nature, they strengthen their connection with themselves. Even a little bit of exposure to nature each day can drastically improve mood.

Have you ever gone to the beach, put your toes in the sand, felt the warmth of the sun on your skin, and been connected to something bigger than yourself? Nature is incredibly powerful and can have a profound effect on our perspective. Simply immersing ourselves in nature is an effective way to disconnect from our daily obligations and look inward.

Research on ecotherapy shows that nature helps to alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and can even improve memory. Surrounding yourself in nature can help connect you to your inner peace. Being in nature is not only good for your mental health but also helpful for your physical health and immune system.  Ecotherapy is meant to enhance the benefits of traditional psychotherapy, not replace it completely.


Nature’s Effects on Mental Health

Although researchers don’t know the exact effects of nature on our brains, they have done studies that show people who went for a 90-minute walk outside had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that’s active during rumination—or the process of repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions. If rumination becomes a habit, it can be especially harmful to mental health, because it can intensify depression as well as your ability to think and process emotions. There are many ways you can incorporate ecotherapy into your life. Take a look at the suggestions below to reap the benefits of ecotherapy.

Types of Ecotherapy:

    1. Adventure Therapy: Adventure therapy is an outdoor activity that can be done by yourself or in a group. The idea is to become immersed in the experience of exploring nature. You may also take part in a challenging activity that is used to aid in a therapeutic healing process. Examples of adventure therapy would be rock climbing, hiking, or kayaking, among many other activities.
    2. Outdoor Meditation or Yoga: As temperatures start to warm up, try taking your meditation or yoga outside. We already know that meditation and yoga are powerful tools that help quiet the mind, but taking these practices outside only increases the benefits on your mental health. Outdoor yoga can provide a great source of exercise, which also has a big influence on mental health. Yoga and meditation have been proven to help people live in the moment, increase patience and self-awareness, and reduce negative emotions.
    3. Animal Assisted Therapy: Animal-assisted therapy focuses on the relationship between you and animals like dogs, cats, horses, or birds. Animal-assisted therapy is helpful to a wide range of people who suffer from disorders like schizophrenia, depression, addiction, anxiety, and more. Therapy may include having an emotional support animal or simply visiting a farm. Researchers have found that animal-assisted therapy can help people build their self-worth and trust, stabilize emotions, and improve communication and socialization skills.
    4. Therapeutic Horticulture: Community gardening can be incredibly therapeutic and helps to reduce loneliness, anxiety, and isolation. Although, gardening can also be a solo activity. A 2018 study on ecotherapy found that gardening improved people’s overall well-being by decreasing symptoms of a myriad of mental health disorders.

May is national mental health awareness month, and Alleviant Health Centers is here to assist you if you or a loved one needs support. Mental wellbeing is of the utmost importance, and ecotherapy can be used in conjunction with psychotherapy or other services. Call today to schedule a free consultation to find out more and be matched with the best therapist for your situation.

About the Author

Kim Sandberg is the owner and founder of Alleviant Health Centers of San Diego and a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. She has two advanced degrees: a Masters of Science in Nursing as a Nurse Anesthetist and a Doctor of Nursing Practice. She has worked in a variety of settings, though the biggest impact on Kim and her work came from her 28 years of service in the Navy Reserve. By opening Alleviant Health Centers, Kim hopes to provide much-needed care for patients who struggle with mental health and chronic pain—especially to the population of veterans and servicemen who desperately need help. Moreover, she is excited to contribute to the holistic health movement by bringing integrative holistic psychiatry and other innovative treatments to the community of San Diego.

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