Ecotherapy: Why Nature Works
Updated: Jan 3, 2021
Ecotherapy is a growing part of the work I do as a therapist. My emphasis on nature is the “mindful” part of Mental and Mindful Health.
I’m not alone in this practice. A growing number of studies show that twenty minutes in nature can offer us an escape from the demands of everyday life, allowing us to pause and reset.
Nature is a sensory experience, bringing us into the present moment. It invites us to reconnect with ourselves while encouraging us to plug into something bigger. For someone suffering from depression, this can create a shift in mood that eases suffering.
In my effort to understand how this works, I learned that like most things worthwhile, there’s some math involved. Nature, even though it can appear disorderly is incredibly structured due to fractals. According to Kyle Pearce from diygenius.com, “a fractal is a pattern that the laws of nature repeat at different scales” (Pearce, 2018).
These repeating patterns are found in everything from sand and snail shells to trees, pinecones, and snowflakes. Fractals soothe us. They’re easy on the eye and on the brain, lowering our stress level by as much as 60% (Lambrou, 2012).
Strategies for inviting nature into our lives.
If we live where nature is readily accessible, we can begin spending time outside this afternoon. Nature requires little special equipment. Good shoes and a weather-appropriate coat in the winter are enough for a twenty-minute walk in most areas on at least a few days during the week. But what if you live in a suburban home without much natural space or in an urban core? Or perhaps physical activity is difficult.
We can start by looking for green spaces. City parks, well-marked greenbelts, and trails can connect us with nature. Many of these places offer seating. Do some research, check for safety issues, and choose the best option.
If it’s still hard for you to spend time in nature, let nature come to you. Just five minutes looking at appealing pictures of nature can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and quiet the brain. With today’s technology, we can download nature pictures and have access to them from our phone, tablet, or computer. Use these pictures in between your experiences out-of-doors. Then, do your best to get out there.
In this post, I’ve mostly referred to “seeing” nature as the primary avenue of how nature helps us, but it’s not the only possibility. Studies show that soil holds microorganisms that can help with depression. The smell of rain, or the sound of a bird can offer a sweet moment of relief. We can engage in these experiences through simply standing on our back porch, digging in a flowerpot, or opening a window.