Ecotherapy: The Missing Piece for Your Mental & Physical Wellbeing
I’ve long been an advocate of spending time outside.
Growing up in the 90’s & early 2000’s, prior to the rise of smartphones & interconnected gadgets galore, I was typically running outside with my sister & the neighborhood kids of the apartment complex I lived in.
Summer vacation days were especially wonderful. When it wasn’t an entire afternoon spent splashing cannonballs in the local pool; I was on my rollerblades cruising on the sidewalk near my home. Fishing with my parents, hiking in the mountains & playing Frisbee in the park were just some of the many things that occupied my time as a child.
Get Outside, Reconnect With Nature & Live Better
The Benefits of Ecotherapy
Being outside was a complete & utter joy, but without fail as the years went on and the increase in responsibilities that started with high school, & then college, I found myself spending less & less time outside just enjoying a warm summer breeze on my skin. Whenever I did spend time in nature, it was as if I was under a trance, willing my body to soak up the peace that came with the warm rays of the sun on the back of my neck.
Some of my fondest memories of the first University I attended were not of hearty debates in the classroom, or receiving a high mark on an exam. No; it was lying on my back in the grass near the duck pond, backpack nestled beneath my neck as a pillow. To this day, whenever I visit my home town, I long to visit the duck pond in the University & when I get the chance, I just lay there, grass tickling the back of my knees, as I relive what it felt like to be 18-years-old.
My life has certainly become much more complicated since those lazy afternoons in the quad as a young college kid.
Even though I’m still in college, after three degrees & now working on my PhD, it’s a completely different scenario.
Missing Mother Nature & Her Beauty
Even though my current University has a lovely quad, I have never actually sat in the grass & just taken the entire scene of students on bikes trying to get to their next class, the nonstop chatter of who is going to what party & where to meet up to study.
I feel like an outsider looking in, playing the part of an anthropologist, ‘’ So this is what the native college freshman is up to on the weekend’’.
Most days my brush with nature consists of the time I spend walking towards my garage to get into my car & start my commute, as I stare at the trees in my backyard. Often I fail to take in the beauty of a splendidly leafy branch swaying ever so rhythmically & instead concentrate on the tall grass near my fence that clearly needs to be cut.
Moreover, once I am at work, I don’t have any windows in my vicinity, so unless I make it a point to go outside, more often than not I am completely disconnected from nature.
I know all of this unintentional removal from nature is not healthy. I can feel it when I get the chance to actually take in even a little bit of it. My breath becomes slower, more relaxed & my brain stops working through item 27 on the world’s longest running to-do list.
In those moments, as I stare at the majestic beauty of the oak tree on the other side of the street, its leafy fronds massive, enveloping the light that somehow manages to travel through, I’m still. I’m content.
Reconnecting With the Beauty of Nature
I once told my husband that if anyone were to ever want to cut down such a beautiful tree, a tree that must have been planted well over 100 years ago to reach its grand stature, I would chain myself up to it, & prevent any wrongdoing to happen to one of God’s great creatures. I can’t let anything happen to that tree, my tree, because it’s mere presence is such a great source of quiet joy in my life.
It’s with this knowledge of the good of nature for us & to us, that the practice of ecotherapy is gaining momentum. Now, not just tree huggers can feel the bounty of spending time in nature. All of us that are dealing with acute & chronic issues alike, from depression & anxiety, to diabetes & cardiovascular disease, can receive a prescription for time outdoors. Our bodies evolved outside, with the elements, not bent over screens & having to take supplements to replenish what we used to obtain naturally.
How Ecotherapy Elevates Our Wellbeing
Ecotherapy is a form of applied psychology where the connection that humans have with nature is used to foster mental vitality & resilience.
In one study, a nature walk reduced symptoms of depression by 71% compared to participants who walked around a shopping mall for the same amount of time. Even just looking at pictures of beautiful green spaces, & hearing the associated sounds, birds chirping, the rustle of leaves, a babbling brook, all served to improve mood & positive feelings.
This form of therapy, whether it’s walking several times a week in a nearby park, or sitting in your backyard as you pay careful attention to the sounds of cicadas rubbing their wings, or bull frogs happily croaking in the distance, is key to developing a sense of peace & calm. Physically, your blood pressure will drop as you find yourself transferred for the moment from the stressors of everyday life into a world where all you care about is spotting the tell-tale red feathers of a Cardinal hopping from branch to branch in the vanishing light of dusk.
Ecotherapy; Everyday Magic
It’s not an exaggeration to think of ecotherapy as a form of everyday magic. When you're outside, the saying, ‘the best things in life are free’ rings truer than ever.
As someone who has had a lifelong struggle with anxiety, & who’s dealing with some chronic health issues at the moment, ecotherapy has provided me with a much needed mental break from those thoughts that tend to circle non-stop round my head, like a group of hungry vultures, & I can’t think of anything better than that.
The best prescription ever for a fraction of the price, rain or shine.
A MESSAGE FROM THE ESSENTIAL LIFE
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR - MONICA LANNOM
Monica is a PhD candidate in Biology attending the University of Illinois.
She struggled with burnout after her first semester in graduate school when, like many people, she took on too many responsibilities while neglecting to practice self-care. However Monica was able to dramatically improve her outlook after incorporating writing & wellness practices into her daily routine. Monica now shares her insights into self-care on her blog & Twitter to encourage others on their own personal development & wellness journeys.