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Eco-therapy: Mental Health And Nature

Updated: Nov 28, 2020

Ebony Bolter explores the interwoven relationship we have with nature and the positive affects it can have on our mental health.

Photo by Victoria Palacios

Consider the centuries of evolutionary human migration from rural to urban communities and the effect it has had on our relationship with nature. With a rise in population, and a rush to cities for job opportunities, modern life is becoming hyper-saturated with offices and homes, resulting in a lack of access to nature.

Subsequently, it is argued that urbanisation is having a negative impact on our biological hard-wiring. It is undeniable to say that as a species, we respond positively to being exposed to nature – mentions of, “after all it is our natural habitat”… the feeling of the sun on your face and the grass between your toes. Nice! Thus, it is no surprise that city dwellers and a lack of green spaces are having negative impacts on our neuro-chemistry.

The altering of our brain chemistry, among other stress factors, can be the perfect storm for a plethora of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. Yet the positive, feel-good hormones enforced by nature, such as serotonin and melatonin, relieves stress and makes us feel more at ease.

The effect nature has on our brains

Gregory Bratman of Stanford University found that participants in his recent study (perhaps unsurprisingly) experienced a reduction in negative thinking, feelings and anxiety following exposure to nature. Supporting Bratman’s hypothesis, the group who had spent time near large amounts of traffic found no positive impacts.

The science behind these positive effects is acknowledged through analysing brain scans and neurological function. The study’s findings showed significant changes to the subgenual prefrontal cortex.

The reduction in blood flow to this part of the brain results in less dwelling and ruminating negative thoughts. Yet, the group absent from nature found blood flow was still high, and no positive effects occurred.

The results of these studies are proving that being around areas of even small amounts of nature has a positive improvement on your mental health. These studies that are illustrating a push and pull between modernity and the effects it has on your mental health, are becoming more and more important to consider when it comes to navigating methods of therapy.

This is where the term ‘Nature therapy’ comes in. Results of being around natural settings such as luscious greenery, is quietening of negative thoughts and decrease in rumination. In this way, Nature therapy has not only positive physiological and neurological impacts. It also generally makes life more peaceful and subdued in the fast-paced society we live in.

Take yourself on a walk

As cliché as it may sound, there is a reason why ‘taking a walk’ is advisable for emotional regulation. Scientific evidence now shows self-reports and brain scans support the premise that exposure to nature can help one to feel more relaxed. So, the next time you feel down, take a walk in a green park, or go to the seaside and revel in the senses provided by nature. Utilising a natural anti-depressant can be a step in the right direction to turning your day around, which may lead to a better week, month or year. | Tru. 🌱


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