Nature is around all of us. When was the last time you got out of your cubicle, office, store, home, whatever to really enjoy it? Most of us love to go to the beach, take walks in the park, vacation in the country, go camping, whatever it is you love in the great outdoors, but do not do it.
Ecotherapy is a way to improve your mental health by being active outdoors, in a green environment.
According to research published last year by Mind, ecotherapy should become a recognized treatment for people with mental health problems. Their report, “Ecotherapy: the green agenda for mental health”, is the first study to look at the benefits of “green exercise” and how it effects depression. (Mind is the National Association for Mental Health, the leading non-profit in England and Wales devoted to mental health.)
They surveyed 108 people involved in green exercise activities within the local Mind groups. The activities included gardening projects (52%), walking groups (37%), conservation work (7%), running (3%) and cycling groups (1%).
- “90 per cent of people who took part in Mind green exercise activities said that the combination of nature and exercise is most important in determining how they feel.
- 94 per cent of people commented that green exercise activities had benefited their mental health.
- 90 per cent of respondents had increased selfesteem after the green walk.
- 44 per cent of people experienced reduced levels of self-esteem following the indoor shopping centre walk.
- 71 per cent of respondents reported decreased levels of depression following the green walk.
- Feelings of depression increased for 22 per cent of people and 33 per cent expressed no change in their level of depression following the indoor shopping centre walk.
- 53 per cent of respondents said feelings of anger decreased after the green walk, but after the equivalent walk indoors, feelings of anger had only decreased for 33 per cent and 45 per cent experienced no change.
- 71 per cent of participants stated that they felt less tense after the green walk and no one reported any increased levels of tension.
- 50 per cent said their feelings of tension had increased after the shopping centre walk.
- 71 per cent of participants said that they felt less fatigued and 53 per cent of people said they felt more vigorous after the green walk – even though they had just walked for 30 minutes.
- 88 per cent of people saw an overall improvement in mood after the green walk.
- The shopping centre walk left 44.5 per cent of people in a worse mood, 11 per cent showed no change in mood and 44.5 per cent had an improvement in their overall mood.
According to the report there are four main reasons why green exercise is beneficial:
- Natural and social connections: watching wildlife, evoking good memories, spiritual feelings
- Sensory stimulation: colors and sounds, fresh air, enjoyment, escape from pollution, contrasts with urban life, being exposed to the weather
- Activity: using manual skills, physically challenging activities such as digging or cycling
- Escape from modern life: time to think and reflect, clear the head, get away from pressures and stress.”
Mind’s Chief Executive stated:
“Mind sees ecotherapy as an important part of the future for mental health. It’s a credible, clinically-valid treatment option and needs to be prescribed by GPs, especially when for many people access to treatments other than antidepressants is extremely limited. We’re not saying that ecotherapy can replace drugs but that the debate needs to be broadened.”
Mind has found that ecotherapy helps with mild to moderate depression, the elderly, prisonsers, and people with goraphobia. I can really envision this being successfully used for children as well. When I was a child we didn’t ever see such diagnoses such ADHD. I imagine it was in part due to the fact that we played outside a lot instead of playing video games and staying online for hours at a time. I can recall watching too much television, but playing outside prevented the amounts we see today. But of course, that was back in the day when our society was considered to be more safe than it is today. This is the reason why having your children involved in sports, sent to summer camp and vacationing outdoors is vital.
Most of us are aware that when we do not get enough sun light we can become depressed, evidenced by a city in the U.S., Seattle, Washington, which gets much rain. I am sure you can recall the first sunny day after a long winter day. It makes one feel alive!
So go outside and enjoy nature! Visit a garden, do gardening in your own backyard, go horsebackriding, walk along the beach. I bet closing your eyes and envisioning such places that you have been to in the past that you have enjoyed would be therapeutic, as well. Exercises such as these can be found in a book that I have read and used “Self-Analysis” by L. Ron Hubbard.
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