Have you ever noticed how your body and mind feel different after you spend time in nature?
Most of us know intrinsically that time in nature has a positive impact on our sense of well-being. And research shows that time in nature is beneficial for our mental and physical health.
What is Ecotherapy?
Ecotherapy is a therapeutic orientation that recognizes that mental health is improved when we spend time in relationship with nature. Eco-therapists are trained in facilitating outdoor-based experiences that connect people with nature in order to improve mental health. Typically an eco-therapist will have an area of focus- they may specialize in:
Climate or environmental issues
A brief history of the human-nature relationship:
If we look at the timeline of human history it is only within the last few hundred years that humans have begun to live disconnected from nature, beginning with the industrial revolution. As machinery became widespread, people left farms and moved into cities. Goods were produced in mass by machines, leading to huge lifestyle changes. Rather than going to work outdoors, which requires an intimate connection to nature, people began spending their working days inside of factories- disconnected from the natural world.
To fuel the production of factory-made products, natural resources were taken from the earth, leading to the destruction of many natural habitats and places. The degradation of the land and the pollution from factories shook formerly stable eco-systems. As a result of industrialization, rivers became contaminated and air quality became hazardous in the cities, further distancing people from nature. During this time cultural attitudes toward nature shifted from interdependence to domination, further widening the gap between people and nature.
“We are intimately connected to the plants and animals, the sun, moon, water... to continue living we must ingest other living beings, absorb light, breathe air, drink water. To be healthy and happy, we need to be embedded in and bond deeply with our human tribe, our animal and plant neighbors, and our place. We can survive without this bonding, but we often feel a great emptiness… like caged zoo animals, we become anxious, nervous, depressed in restrictive and artificial habitats. To heal, we must break out of the artificial isolation that has been encouraged by the hyper-individualism of modern culture.”
-Linda Buzzell, in Ecotherapy Healing with Nature in Mind
Connecting with nature:
Eco-therapists believe that disconnection between people and nature contributes to feelings of stress, depression, and disconnection; from a sense of community and one's own natural identity. The addition of technology, social media, and constant access to world events adds another layer of stress that can have a significant impact on mental health.
When we connect with nature, we experience the many benefits that time in nature has to offer us. Benefits of time in nature include:
Reduced levels of stress, anxiety, and depression
Increased self confidence
Lowered blood pressure
Camaraderie with others, contributing to a sense of community
A sense of being connected to something larger than oneself
Increased capacity for emotion regulation
Opportunities to experience awe- an important emotion that can decrease negative self-talk by deactivating the part of the brain that is concerned with self-perception
Even small things like bringing flowers into the home, listening to birds outside, or smelling fresh rain on the ground can change the body's physiological state, leading to stress reduction and connecting us back to our roots that are deeply embedded in the natural world.
What experiences have you had in nature that have had a positive impact on your mental health? How do you feel different before you spend time in nature, verses after?
Buzzell, L., Chalquist, C. (2009). Ecotherapy: Healing with nature in mind. Counterpoint.
Harms, V. (1994). Almanac of the Environment The ecology of everyday life. G.P. Putnam's Sons.
Miyazaki, Y. (2018). Shinrin Yoku: The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing. Timber Press, Inc.