If you’re feeling anxious and stressed, a little ecotherapy could be what you need to feel calmer. What is ecotherapy? It’s a type of therapy that uses nature for stress relief and healing. Natural settings provide opportunities for relaxation, exercise, and solitude, and a chance for your mind and body to reboot and rest.
Ecotherapy includes activities that help you connect with and enjoy the natural world. It might include pursuits such as walking in the park, gardening, and practicing yoga outdoors. Yet ecotherapy can be more. Let’s look at some ways to use ecotherapy in your own life to relieve stress.
Take a Walk in the Woods
Few places are as peaceful as a forest, and if you have a wooded area nearby, you have a natural way to relieve stress and get some exercise. The physical act of walking is beneficial on its own, but when you combine it with nature, it’s even more powerful.
Science shows spending time in nature has a positive effect on brain function and mental health. Studies show that trees, particularly pine trees, release natural chemicals called phytoncides that have surprising health benefits.
Not only do these chemicals calm your mind, but research shows they may also benefit your immune system. Studies reveal that when you breathe in phytoncides, it increases the number of natural killer (NK) cells that fight viruses. Spending a weekend camping outdoors in a wooded area could have significant health benefits.
There’s no better way to de-stress than by taking a refreshing stroll through the park or nearby wooded area.
Watch Birds and Listen to Their Music
While typical methods of relieving stress include exercise, meditation, or listening to soothing music, a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter showed that watching birds is another form of therapy that has positive effects on mental health.
Researchers looked at the benefits of stress relief and ecotherapy in a cross-sectional survey of 270 people from the United Kingdom (UK). The results showed a strong link between watching birds and reduced stress, depression, and negative mood. Bird watching is relaxing and helps form a deeper bond with nature. You don’t have to be a professional birdwatcher with a pair of binoculars to get the benefits. Just sitting on a park bench and listening to the bird sounds around you can relax your mind and body.
Walk Through a Botanical Garden
Another way to connect with nature is to walk through a botanical garden. A study found that walking in any type of green space, such as a garden or park, was linked with a drop in the stress hormone cortisol. Botanical gardens offer a variety of ways to relieve stress.
You can walk along nature trails, sit in quiet meditation areas, or catch up with friends in the café. While you enjoy the beauty of plants, trees, and flowers, you’ll focus your attention away from work and other sources of stress.
Some botanical gardens offer workshops on topics like bird watching, gardening, or yoga. Many also have cafes that serve delicious meals made from organic ingredients grown in the garden. Warm weather? Botanical gardens are also ideal for picnics.
The benefits of meditation are well documented and range from reduced stress, anxiety, panic attacks, and depression to improved focus, memory, and cognitive function. Meditation can also have a positive effect on sleep patterns and quality of life. Meditating outdoors may offer additional benefits when carried out in nature. It doesn’t take a lot of preparation either. Choose a comfortable outdoor spot where you can sit quietly and meditate or simply soak up the sounds around you.
Care for a Small Garden
Gardening is a form of ecotherapy that has health benefits. One study found that 15-minute gardening sessions involving low to moderate-intensity movement improved the physical and mental health of elderly women. Gardening offers both exercise and quiet time, both of which are beneficial for relieving stress and anxiety. Incorporate gardening into your life as another way to lower stress levels and improve mental well-being.
Other ways to do ecotherapy close to home include:
- Grow plants in pots: Pots are perfect for any size garden or balcony as they don’t need much nurturing. They also reduce the stress on the knees from kneeling on hard surfaces that many gardeners suffer. Just remember to water them with care to keep them healthy.
- Create a wildlife pond: This can be as simple as a birdbath with a shallow edge, which will allow wading birds like herons to come close to the house without presenting a threat to pets or small children.
- Make a shelter: Build a small summer house or just place some overgrown shrubs against an existing structure – like a garage, shed, or fence – to create shelter for wildlife in your backyard.
The Bottom Line
You don’t have to spend all day hiking or camping to reap the benefits of ecotherapy. Simply sitting quietly in a tree-filled park counts too. The take-home message is this: Find more ways to spend time in nature and reduce the time you spend with technology. Your brain needs a reboot too, and ecotherapy offers that.
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