I am not a licensed therapist or mental health professional. If you are suffering and need treatment please seek the help of a professional. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
“Here’s your antidepressant prescription, but I have another set of ‘doctor’s orders’ I need you to follow too.” My OBGYN turned from writing on her prescription pad and locked eyes with me. It was 2 months after my divorce and I was definitely battling depression.
“You have to promise me you’ll go outside for at least ten minutes a day. Humans are basically plants. We need water, food, and sun to thrive. No need to walk if you don’t want to. Just find a tree to lean up against and soak in nature. Ten minutes a day minimum.”
I realized later that Dr. T was describing what can be known as “ecotherapy.” It is also known as “nature therapy” or “green therapy.” It’s just a fledgling practice, having only been around twenty years or so, but it shows strong potential. Let’s explore what this is all about and how it might help us!
TLDR: Don’t be a Vampire
Ecotherapy is basically the premise that people are inextricably connected to the natural environment and our attention to this fact impacts our well being. You know that feeling when you long to have your toes in the sand on a beach? Or walking outside on a sunny day, closing your eyes and just basking as the warm sun washes over you? I really believe that these impulses underscore our need to experience nature to be fully….us. Vampire’s might not need the sun, but we do.
I’d argue that even “bad” weather can have a restorative effect. A good thunderstorm can really serve to remind us to channel the power of nature. And if you haven’t danced in the rain since you were little, definitely give it a try. Nature gives us a chance to abandon all our affectations and find our place in something bigger than we are.
PSA: A Message From Dermatologists Everywhere
Please please please wear your sunscreen while experimenting with ecotherapy. It’s all fun and games until someone gets a sunburn. We know enough about the negative effect of even one significant sunburn to avoid it like the plague, so please choose wisely. If you hate slathering on the lotion, consider protective SPF clothes and either way, a wide brimmed hat is the way to go. Ok, end of PSA!
What is ecotherapy good for?
My doctor clearly believed in the power of nature to help with depression. I followed her recommendation for the most part, and did notice I felt better on days I connected with the natural world. One of my favorite things to do is take my shoes off and feel the dirt and grass and soak in the stability. Have you ever tried this? I highly recommend it.
As I researched what ecotherapy can help ease, I was really surprised! According to a study conducted in 2009 referenced by The Earth Body Institute, ecotherapy can help diminish pain, help you sleep better, reduce anxiety and even make your immune system stronger. Wow! Clearly this is a therapy to consider hand-in-hand with a treatment plan from your doctor. I know that it has supported my experience with medicine as another tool in my toolbox.
One of the biggest benefits of this strategy is that it’s free and easily accessible for most people. Even looking at images or movies of nature can have a positive result, as can seeing nature from your windows. So think about how you have arranged your living and working spaces. Decorate with pictures of trees, plants, etc and if you can, situate your desk so you can see outside while you work. If you are stuck in a cube, bring in a little plant! You’ll have the double benefit of cleaner air and less stress.
Do it yourself ecotherapy?
Let’s talk some more about what actually engaging in ecotherapy looks like. Since it’s an emerging therapy, you may have difficulty finding a local practitioner. I googled based on my major metro area and only found a couple. The good news is that you can easily take advantage of many of the benefits of ecotherapy with a self directed program. Remember, if you think you have an illness, mental or physical, be sure to first visit your doctor and discuss options for treatment with them!
Across the board, experts recommend spending at least 2 hours per week outside. That rounds to about 20 minutes a day. You could knock out some bigger chunks all at once if that’s easier. I loved one suggestion that going on picnics is a fun way to practice ecotherapy. Who doesn’t love eating some sandwiches outdoors, even just sitting on a blanket on your balcony or in your backyard? Another strategy is to tie it in with an existing goal. I try to complete a ten minute meditation every day, and sitting on the patio while doing it feels very grounding. My challenge to you is to look at your daily routine. What could you adjust to intentionally incorporate time outside?
The Hills Are Alive….
Maria in The Sound of Music was clearly on to something as she escaped to nature whenever she felt sad. I suggest we follow her lead and let nature bring us calmness, stability, and strength along with the potential to heal. It’s free and easy, why not give it a try?