Ecotherapy: Reawakening to Nature
It’s not hard to understand why we find — and seek out — peace and solace in nature. That’s the main reason why so many of us choose to “get away” to a bucolic countryside or ocean retreat. We collect our thoughts in nature, we unwind, regroup and recenter. Many world famous yoga retreat centers, including Kripalu and The Shambhala Mountain Center, provide a refuge from daily life for which people pay thousands.
But why is this, besides the obvious biological need for vitamin D and fresh air? Is there perhaps a deeper, inherent pull back to our biological roots that is too often overshadowed by our daily commute to and from work, a place where we spend more waking hours sitting in front of a computer screen than looking up at the clouds and letting our minds wander?
A recent article in Psychology Today points out that nature not only heals many human ailments on a basic level, but is used more and more as a cognitive psychological tool to aid in mental illness management and other psychiatric disorders. Ecotherapy, a relatively new and emerging field that combines nature and psychology, is therefore becoming a household name, particularly given so much of our time these days is spent multitasking on an iPhone or driving in a car.
Interestingly, in 2007, researchers at the University of Essex found that out of a group of people suffering from depression, 90% of those surveyed experienced higher levels of self-esteem after taking a walk in nature and “almost three-quarters felt less depressed.” The same research team determined that “94% of people with mental illnesses believed that contact with nature put them in a more positive mood.” It’s then not farfetched to project that regular exposure to nature will continue to stabilize mood.
Clearly, our connection with nature and with the natural world around us holds many physical and emotional benefits, likely beyond that which we can entirely quantify. Disconnection from nature, therefore, not only has a negative impact on our health, but is simulatneously bad for the environment; the more we view ourselves as separate from the very planet that sustains us, the less we care about policies that impact our planet and neighboring species. A classic scenario of out of sight, out of mind.
Along these lines, one of the reasons environmental groups are growing leery about the future of conservation, particularly in light of pressing issues like climate change, is directly related to growing environmental apathy in the so-called “Internet,” “me“, or Millennial generation.
While it’s not necessarily fair to stereotype an entire generation (many Millennials are active in 350.org movements, for example), numerous reports have shown that Millennials overall are typically less generous and tend to be more inwardly focused, which is not good news for causes that demand a higher level of awareness and selfless action. Now that’s not to say older generations, such as Baby Boomers, are any better. The suburbs and single-car lifestyle popularized during the Boomer generation have singlehandedly left one of the largest carbon legacies on Earth.
No matter the generation and whatever your take is on nature and our connection to it, the positive benefits are serious and significant. Protecting wild spaces is more critical than ever as population continues to rise and resources become scarce. Our very psychology, in fact, depends on it. While it can be easy to forget just how critical it is to get outside for a simple walk each day, nature allows for introspection and solace not easily obtained elsewhere and this relationship should not be taken lightly.
Photo Credit: G0h4r