Nature is an often overlooked, yet abundant resource for healing. As a therapist, it is my job to sit with clients when they are feeing distress, overwhelm, and anxiety. In order to redress these challenges, I often provide strategies and coping skills that utilize nature as a resource. As an ecotherapist, I see the natural world as a co-therapist in the healing process. This blog serves as a beginners guide for increasing your healing capacity by engaging the free and accessible benefits of the natural world.
Find below 3 reasons to get outside and corresponding activities that can help meet our nature needs:
Nature Increases Wellbeing
Spending time in the nature or even just viewing pictures of nature are both associated with psychological wellbeing. Being outside in nature is correlated with a decrease in blood pressure, the relaxing of tight muscles, and an increase in alpha brains waves which incite feelings of calm.
I often prescribe nature outings during the week for clients who are struggling to stay grounded or feel overwhelmed by stress or anxiety. Plan outside activities after periods of stress or anxiety for you and/or your family – doing yard work, going on a walk around Lady Bird Lake, or spending time on your porch can all be helpful transitional activities that can calm you down after the work/school stress or blues.
Nature Creates Avenues for Positive Sensory Intervention
The latest research states that new, repetitive interactions with sensory experiences help grow the brain and create positive, healing neuropathways. Healing sensory experiences are positive experiences that engage the senses. The natural world is full of novel, sensory experiences – these experiences are especially important for our kiddos and teens whose brains are still developing. Note: it is also important for adults.
Play the “5 Senses Game” with your family after school. Go on a nature walk and ask each family member to notice something they saw, heard, tasted, and touched. (I generally leave out the taste sense and have a handful of mint or rosemary sprigs to pass out unless you’ve got a family of gardeners who know what is safe to taste and what is not). At the end of the walk, ask each family member to share their experience.
Nature Encourages Physical and Emotional Healing
A landmark study by Ulrich found that having access to a nature scene through a window expedited the healing process for those undergoing gallbladder surgery. Patients with nature access via a window healed faster at a statistically significant rate compared to those patients who did not have access to a natural scene. Additionally, research suggests that there are microbes in soil that are associated with increases positive mood. Many hospitals and healing spaces are now incorporating gardening as an addendum to healing protocols.
If possible, create work and play spaces that have access to windows with natural views. Place a plant next to your bed, or at your desk at work. Not keen on watering? It’s Texas – get yourself a cactus or succulent! If you do not have access to light or windows, place pictures of the natural world in your office – this too is supported by research to increase feelings of calm.
This week, take a deep breath, and walk outside. The healing capacities of the natural world are ready to help. Feel free to reach out if you have any nature-related therapy questions. When in doubt, go outside…