Style Living Self Celebrity Geeky News and Views
In the Paper BrandedUp Hello! Create with us Privacy Policy

Nature heals

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 02, 2020 4:00 pm

Sunrise has an otherworldly magic. Seeing the sun paint the sky from dusky blue to blinding orange and yellow, casting a golden glow on treetops and leaves, is truly magical.

A morning ritual can be the foundation of a self-care routine. You can start your day greeting the sun, plants, flowers, birds and butterflies good morning — full of hope that the day will be amazing.

We need to take care of our mental health, physical health and environmental health. Of course, the three are all deeply interconnected. You probably have an idea of this already. You get a glimpse of this connection while walking on the beach, feeling fine sand between your toes and the cool, gentle waves brushing against your skin. Even at home, you can feel this connection while tending to your plants, or taking a break to appreciate how beautiful the leaves on the trees look as they dance in the wind.

Modern science supports this connection between humans and nature. Psychologists are linking our psyche to the environment. This has led to an emergent field of eco-psychology called eco-therapy, or nature therapy.

Eco-therapy is based on the idea that people are part of the web of life and deeply connected with nature. It provides people with an opportunity to explore their relationship with nature. Several mental health practitioners incorporate eco-therapy into their existing practice.

The core of eco-therapy is connection with the earth. Nature has a perfect design that can set itself right and integrate balance into the ecosystem. If people can harmonize with these systems, they can experience improved mental health. Planetary well-being and personal well-being can never be separated.

Research highlights the positive benefits of connecting with nature. In an experiment where participants were asked to do a mentally strenuous task while walking for 40 minutes in either a nature preserve, urban area or sitting quietly listening to music and reading magazines, those who walked in nature felt less anger and more positive emotions.

In a similar study by Mind, a mental health organization, 71 percent of participants reduced symptoms of depression through a nature walk, compared to only 45 percent of those who took a walk in a shopping center.

In another study, participants recovered faster from stress when they were exposed to the sounds of a fountain and birds rather than to road traffic noise. Even just by looking at nature or getting a glimpse from a window can improve overall mood, mental health and life satisfaction.

Studies have shown that heart surgery patients in intensive care units reduced their anxiety and need for pain medicine by viewing photos of trees and water. Office workers with a view of nature from a window reported higher job and life satisfaction.

Nature also increases physical health. Kids who live in buildings with a nearby green space have better capacity to delay gratification, pay attention, and inhibit impulses. Children diagnosed with ADHD also display fewer symptoms after spending time in nature.

Eco-therapy covers all nature-based approaches to healing. It can be done with the guidance of a therapist, in groups or individually. The best part is that you can enjoy all the benefits of eco-therapy for free. There are many ways to do this.

  • Nature meditation. This involves identifying and focusing on one thing in nature for a few minutes. It helps increase positive emotions. Reflecting on what you can learn from this aspect of nature also teaches you valuable life lessons inspired by nature’s perfect design.
  • Horticultural therapy. It uses plants and gardening to promote well-being. Digging soil, planting seedlings and trimming leaves can reduce stress, burnout and substance abuse. Exercise in a natural environment — hiking, jogging, walking, cycling or swimming — reduces stress, anxiety, depression and anger.
  • Animal-assisted therapy. Animals that help us learn and heal through nature. Animal-assisted therapy introduces playing with and petting animals like cats and dogs reduces aggression and agitation.

Just as our environment helps us, we must help it, too. Environmental conservation and protection is a mutually beneficial form of eco-therapy. Restoring and conserving the natural environment restores purpose and hope, which is a surefire way to improve your mood.

Take time today to go outside to savor nature. Learn from it, recharge with it. Then think of what you can do for it, too!

Photo courtesy of the author