Learn how spending time outdoors helps ameliorate the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
One of the first things people want to know after receiving a diagnosis of depression is: Can I do anything that doesn’t require pills?
The question is perfectly valid. If you ask most folks, they’d rather not take psychotropic drugs. This point is particularly true for guys who, thanks to hypermasculine thinking, believe “real men don’t get depressed”. The hard truth is they do. See this men and depression post to learn more.
At any rate, when I’ve been asked about alternatives to medications, I generally try to recast the question. In other words, my goal is to help the asker to understand that there isn’t just “one thing” that works.
I wish there was – truly.
But the reality is that most folks who live with a mood disorder need a combination approach to feel better. Here, I am talking about traditional talk-therapy, medication, and something else – like physical activity.
Oh, didn’t you know? Moving your body is a powerful way to combat depression. Ideally, you will try to do something meaningful, like resistance training or cardiovascular exercise.
But the world isn’t ideal and the gym isn’t for everyone.
So, what are the options? Can you do anything else to lift your mood? According to some lines of research, the answer is yes – big time. And in most cases, it won’t cost you a cent.
It’s called nature therapy, also known as eco-therapy or green therapy.
What is Nature Therapy?
When you strip away all the psychological jargon, nature therapy is nothing more than a person joining with the larger system of life. The driving principle is that none of us are an island unto ourselves but instead, part of something bigger.
Because people living with depression often isolate, it is believed that being outside helps the individual break-free of their thoughts while encouraging movement.
Benefits of Nature Therapy
When you reflect on this point, it kind of makes sense. If you are mindfully allowing the grass to touch your feet or lasering your awareness on a babbling brook, you aren’t focusing on your loneliness or crushing sadness.
This isn’t to say nature is totally curative. It’s not. But it is to suggest that being outside can help you to feel better (Chalquist, 2009).
When you combine eco-therapy with other forms of standard treatment (meds, counseling), the trio can pack a massive blow to depression.
Walking up hills, hiking on a path or building a campfire all involve movement. In turn, these kinds of activities encourage the stirring of mood-lifting brain chemicals called endorphins.
If you’ve ever taken a vigorous walk or banged out several arm-curls at the gym, you know what I’m talking about. Endorphins create powerful feelings of wholeness and wellbeing.
But wait – there is more.
When you are in nature and taking in the views from a scenic environment – like a lush forest – the optics your brain receives can encourage a sense of happiness.
That’s because certain colors, like greens, blues, and yellows, can positively impact mood. And you don’t have to be in a warm- weather place to experience a benefit.
For example, taking a walk through the wintry woods while the sun passes through the trees may be just enough to help promote inner peace.
One thing many people do who partake in nature therapy is to engage in gratitude exercises. An example might be giving thanks to your higher power for being present in the moment. Another example might be laughing after recalling a happy memory.
Not long ago, a research study was released that demonstrated war veterans experienced massive relief from symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through horseback riding.
While many of the benefits realized were linked to the relationship riders had with their horses, the fact is all of it took place outdoors.
If veterans can benefit from being in nature with animals, how might you benefit from something similar?
It’s certainly something to think about, right?
As mentioned earlier in this article, eco-therapy alone will not cure your down mood. But it can complement things you are already doing help lift your spirits.
Moreover, nature therapy allows you to employ all of your senses. This means listening to the birds, seeing the squirrels, and smelling the fresh air.
Finally, the silence of nature helps to quiet thoughts and calm the mind. Even 20-minutes can do wonders. But for that to happen, you’ll need to get up and move towards the front door.
If you are depressed, talk to your doctor. When considering treatment options, ask about complimentary alternatives, like eco-therapy. You may find that being one with the environment is just what mother nature ordered to boost your mood.
Image credit: Pixabay
Chalquist, C. (2009, August 2009). A Look at the Ecotherapy Research Evidence. Retrieved from Ecopsychology: http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/eco.2009.0003