Have you ever noticed that whenever you go on a hike, walk in a forest, bask in the sun along the shore or just spend a night lying on a bed of grass and looking up at a starry sky, you feel like something heavy has been lifted off of you? You feel more relaxed, and your stress seems to have gone with the wind. Simply being in nature puts you into a meditative and mindful state.
This is known in many names, including green therapy, nature therapy, earth-centered therapy and ecotherapy. It has recently been gaining the attention of the scientific community. A number of studies are trying to understand how outdoor immersion can alleviate depression and improve one’s overall mental health.
Green and Urban Life
There are times when the mind cannot keep up anymore with the fast-paced urban life. The stress you constantly get from work, the pollution you have to go through every day, and the suffocating feeling of simply living in the city can take their toll on your health both physically and mentally.
The study conducted by Ryan, R. et al. (2010) showed that spending at least 20 minutes outdoors and in nature per day can boost one’s energy levels. As the lead author said, “Nature is fuel for the soul.” Moreover, the findings of the research prove that nature does not only recharge the body when it feels depleted but also makes it more resilient to various physical illnesses.
Nature and Depression
Being sad and anxious are normal human emotions. Sometimes you feel like you’re on top of the world, but sometimes the world seems to be against you. However, when you constantly feel these negative emotions, they can lead to clinical depression. And it can sap the motivation and liveliness out of you.
This mental disorder has been linked to different health issues. In fact, an international team of scientists have found that suffering from depression for a long period of time can cause brain damage (Schmaal, L. et al., 2015). It can also cause back pain (Pinheiro, M. et al., 2015).
Researchers from the University of Essex conducted a study about how nature can affect depressed people (“New research shows benefits of ecotherapy,” 2013). Their findings show that taking a walk in nature had reduced the depression scores in 71 percent of the participants. This is only one of the many more studies that have linked the positive effect of nature to depression.
Nature and Happiness
A dose of nature may just be the right prescription for happiness. MacKerron, G. & Mourato, S. (2013) claims that happiness is actually greater in natural environments. Their study shows that the participants demonstrated significant and substantial evidence of happiness when they are outdoors among greens compared to when they were placed in an urban setting. Their findings have further strengthened existing studies that had also proven the positive effects of nature to one’s happiness and well-being.
This may be explained by the theory that we haven’t been fully alienated from nature. It’s only been just over 200 years ago when we started confining ourselves in the jungle of concrete and modern living, which started during the Industrial Revolution. That’s just a small fraction compared to the hundreds of thousand years we have lived and evolved within the freeing space of nature. Many believe that our separation from our natural habitat is what has caused many of our mental problems today (Walsh, B., 2009).
As our world becomes more digital and industrial, it is no wonder that more and more people are dreaming to travel and discover nature.
Ryan, R. et al., 2010. Vitalizing Effects of Being Outdoors and In Nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology. June 2010 30(2): 159–168; doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2009.10.009
Schmaal, L. et al., 2015. Subcortical Brain Alterations in Major Depressive Disorder: Findings from the ENIGMA Major Depressive Disorder Working Group. Molecular Psychiatry. 30 June 2015; doi: 10.1038/mp.2015.69
Pinheiro, M. et al., 2015. Symptoms of Depression and Risk of New Episodes of Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Arthritis Care & Research. 27 October 2015, 67(11): 1591-1603; doi: 10.1002/acr.22619
New Research Shows Benefits of Ecotherapy for Mental Health and Wellbeing. 23 October 2013. In Mind. Retrieved from http://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/new-research-shows-benefits-of-ecotherapy-for-mental-health-and-wellbeing/#.Vv655aR97IU
MacKerron, G. & Mourato, S., 2013. Happiness is Greater in Natural Environments. Global Environment Change. October 2013 23(5), 992-1000; doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.03.010
Walsh, B. (2009, July 28). ‘Eco-Therapy’ for Environmental Depression. Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1912687,00.html