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Alcohol and Mental Health

What Is Ecotherapy? 5 Ways Time in Nature Improves Mental Well-Being

July 12, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 12, 2023
8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 12, 2023
8 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 12, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 12, 2023
8 min read

Think back to a time when you were wandering in a forest, your steps muffled by a thick carpet of leaves. Remember the soothing rustle of the trees, the playful chirping of birds, and the fresh air in your lungs. Your worries seemed to dissipate with the breeze.

This experience you've just revisited is ecotherapy in action. Ecotherapy centers on the fact that spending time in the natural world nurtures our mental health.

But how exactly does being in nature make this happen? In this article, we’ll shed light on the powerful, restorative influence of our natural environment.

The Calming Effects of the Natural World

Ecotherapy — or nature therapy — harnesses the positive effects of nature on our well - being.

While a walk in the woods is a kind of informal ecotherapy, there are also several formal approaches to ecotherapy:

  • Animal-assisted therapy focuses on interacting with animals — dogs, horses, or other animals — as a means of coping with difficult experiences.
  • Horticulture therapy centers on the meaningful work of growing and caring for plants.
  • Forest bathing involves soaking in the experience of being surrounded by trees, long practiced in Japan. Research has found it lowers stress and blood pressure.
  • Wilderness adventures can include hiking and camping. When practiced as a group, it can promote social skills while forcing one to confront unhealthy behaviors.

While ecotherapy is a structured approach to mental health — conducted alongside a mental health professional or a guide — being in nature in any way also has its mental health benefits.

Spending time outdoors — gardening, exercising outside, or simply laying on the beach or in a park — can improve your overall well-being in the following ways:

1. Reduced Stress

Researchers found that spending time in green spaces lowers cortisol, our primary stress hormone. Nature encourages mindfulness and presence, helping us root firmly in the reality of the here and now.

Watching a sunset, feeling the wind against our skin, or even tending to a plant at home can all anchor us, providing a refuge from the whirlwind of our thoughts.

2. Increased Physical Activity

Going for a run or exercising in green spaces is also called “green exercising.” But even when physical activity is not the primary motive, ecotherapy can encourage it — which can improve our overall health and well-being.

3. Improved Social Connections

Ecotherapy can take place in group therapy settings, which provide opportunities for social connection and support.

But being in nature generally can also foster social connections. A recent study reveals that people in natural environments feel more connected to their community and other people.

4. Improved Cognition

People who practice ecotherapy seem to benefit from higher levels of self-worth and improved motivation, which leads to greater focus and concentration.

A University of Michigan study suggests that nature improves memory and attention. Even simple actions like enjoying your morning coffee near a window with a view of trees can make a big difference.

5. Reduced Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression

Ecotherapy has been shown to help reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, fatigue, low motivation, and loneliness.

Nature boosts our mood. Research shows it helps build our confidence and enhance our decision-making skills. It can even help reduce pain and improve other physical ailments. This could be especially useful as we try to cut back on drinking.

Rooting Into Reality: Ecotherapy in Action

As long as you’re safe and choose activities that align with your physical abilities, spending time in nature can be an easy, inexpensive way to improve mental well-being.

How can we cultivate a connection to nature in our daily lives? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Start small. Grow a plant at your work desk or maintain a small balcony garden. Sit outside for lunch if the weather is agreeable — or by a window with a view of the world when it isn’t.
  • Create a routine. Commit to a daily walk or a weekly picnic in a green space.
  • Get involved. Engage in community garden projects or nature clean-up events.
  • Mindful immersion. Try forest bathing or a tech-free nature retreat.
  • Photo journal. Capture moments of natural beauty, and reflect on them later.
  • Ditch the nightcap. Replace that habitual drink with a pleasant walk through your neighborhood or local park.

As we slowly cultivate these practices, we'll find ourselves growing into healthier versions of ourselves.

With time, patience, and care, we can bloom into health.

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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