Taking care of your mental health is one of the most important parts of staying well. Adequate sleep, good nutrition, regular exercise, and ample time to relax and decompress are all vital self-care practices and ways to stay balanced. And when the weather is nice, an improved mental state could be waiting for you in your backyard or on your front porch. Ecotherapy, also known as nature or green therapy, harnesses the power of the natural world to improve your mood. Here, I’ll explain a little more about the mental health benefits of ecotherapy practices.
- What is Ecotherapy?
- Going Green: Nature Meditation
- Make Every Day Arbor Day: Horticultural Therapy
- Let’s Take This Outside: Outdoor Exercise
- Creature Comfort: Animal-Assisted Therapy
- Ready to Go Green?
What is Ecotherapy?
Ecotherapy explores the relationship between nature and mental health. It’s the idea that fresh air, sunshine, and the beauty of the natural world can do wonders for your mood. There’s evidence that spending time in nature may help you to ease stress, depression, and anxiety. Experts aren’t entirely clear on exactly how or why it happens, but they do know that the benefits are there. The idea goes hand-in-hand with the concept of environmental wellness: our connection to, and care for, the world around us.
How can you take advantage of the mental health benefits of nature? Let’s check out some of the ways you can make nature therapy part of your wellness routine.
Going Green: Nature Meditation
The benefits of mindfulness meditation are numerous: reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as better self-esteem. Meditating in nature and focusing your mind on sounds like bird songs and rustling leaves can be especially relaxing and rejuvenating. The next time you meditate, try doing it outdoors, whether it’s on your back deck, in the woods, or on the beach. Take notice of how the sunshine and breeze feel on your skin and what the air smells like.
And if you can’t get outdoors to meditate every day, a nature soundtrack can help you unwind. You might try the Calm app, which offers a number of “soundscapes,” like light rain, ocean waves, and forest sounds. It also features playlists of natural sounds combined with soft music.
Make Every Day Arbor Day: Horticultural Therapy
Do you know someone who absolutely loves gardening, even if it means pulling weeds? For many people, gardening is a form of self-care, whether they realize it or not. In fact, horticultural therapy is a professional practice that uses gardening to improve participants’ mental and physical health. And you can take advantage of the observations experts have made over decades of practice by starting a mini therapeutic garden of your own.
Spending time outdoors and working with your hands can help to take your mind off the sources of stress in your life. Gardening is also good physical exercise and a great way to socialize, if you can find a neighbor who’s also an enthusiast. What’s more, your garden may yield beautiful flowers or fresh veggies. It’s so satisfying to enjoy the fruits (no pun intended!) of your labor.
Let’s Take This Outside: Outdoor Exercise
Physical fitness is important for all of us, especially since it has such a strong effect on our mental wellness. Working out regularly can help you to sleep better, maintain a better mood, and be more alert. Any time you drop what you’re doing to commit to thirty minutes of rigorous exercise, you’re doing something amazing for your brain as well as your body.
Here’s an easy to make your workout routine even more beneficial: Take it outside! Outdoor exercise can help stave off anxiety, depression, and everyday stress, and many people find it more fun than going to the gym. Here are some green workout ideas for every temperature and season. Most of these activities are low-cost or free. All you need is eco-friendly activewear, supportive footwear, sunscreen, and plenty of water!
- Low-impact walking or jogging, especially uphill.
- Riding a bicycle, on the road or off.
- Jumping rope—it’s not just for kids!
- Lap swimming or treading water.
- Walking or hiking on uneven terrain, like beach sand or deep snow.
- Speaking of snow—try shoveling to work those arm muscles!
- Friendly team sports, like softball, kickball, volleyball, or Frisbee.
- Yoga—you can take your mat almost anywhere.
If you’re not a gym person, you may find that it’s easier to commit to exercising regularly when you do it outdoors. Does having a workout buddy help you to stay on track? Many of these activities are easy to do side-by-side with a friend. It’s not hard to stick to a routine when it’s fun!
Creature Comfort: Animal-Assisted Therapy
If you’ve ever had a pet, you know how much joy they can bring to your life and how much better they can make you feel on a lousy day. Spending time with an animal can help reduce depression, anxiety, fatigue, and even physical pain. That’s why many hospitals, clinics, and other facilities now offer animal-assisted therapy. Many people can benefit from engaging with a trained therapy animal, like cancer and cardiac patients, memory care unit residents, and veterans.
Could spending time with a furry (or feathered) friend help to improve your life? Chances are good that adopting a pet will help you remember to relax and enjoy life. A dog is a great choice, especially because you’ll need to go for regular walks together. If you’re not ready for that kind of commitment (or have a dog allergy), you might consider a lower-maintenance animal. Cats are famously independent and quiet, but rabbits, chinchillas, hamsters, and guinea pigs can all make great companions too.
If pet ownership isn’t for you, you can still enjoy the company of animals by volunteering at a local shelter. You also might offer to walk your neighbor’s dog a few times each week or pet-sit when they’re on vacation. Or just check out the plethora of cute animal videos on YouTube.
Ready to Go Green?
Now it’s time for you to enjoy Planet Earth’s many gifts in new ways. As you go about your day, be creative in how you engage with nature. Eat lunch outdoors, take a walk after work, and listen to the rain on your roof as you’re falling asleep. These easy ecotherapy activities can help you stay happy, balanced, and well—naturally!