Every day, in almost every form of media available, there are ads for pills that will make you happier, more focused, less anxious, and more productive. Pills, pills, pills. There are just as many natural remedies available as there are pharmaceutical options, but still the problem remains: what is best for you? People go years and spend tons of money trying to find a solution for the common problems that we face every day, simply because of the myriad of options available. What if there was one remedy that was universal, not only for symptom relief but also for the people who could take it and see results?
As it turns out, there is a universal remedy and doctors are now actually writing prescriptions for depression : Nature.
There is a new trend of doctors actually writing “Nature Prescriptions” telling people to get outside. In 2007, a research team from the University of Essex in the U.K. showed that even 5 minutes outside in a natural setting reduced symptoms of depression in 71% of the study participants. Not only are traditional health care providers starting to lean to a more natural approach to conditions like depression and anxiety, but universities are starting to offer study programs that teach people the benefits of ecotherapy. John F. Kennedy University, for example, now offers a graduate-level certification program for ecotherapy that includes education about animal-assisted therapy, time stress management, and managing “eco-anxiety”.
Why Ecotherapy Works
Albert Einstein said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” As is generally the case with Einstein, he could not have been more correct. A lot of the benefits of being outdoors in a natural setting start with your mind. In fact, spending more time outdoors can actually change the way your brain works. One example of this comes from a study done last year that showed that spending time in a natural setting reduced repetitive negative thoughts, or rumination.
What was interesting about this particular study, was the fact that there was actual brain imaging to back up the feelings of the participants. It wasn’t psychosomatic, their brains actually acted differently when they were in a natural setting. The part of the brain that shuts down when people were sent into a natural setting, the subgenual prefrontal cortex, is also associated with many other forms of mental illness.
Why Ecotherapy is Important
In that same study referenced above, the researchers pointed out that almost 50% of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. That number is only increasing. It’s no surprise that more and more people are being diagnosed with mental illness. There is far too much research to support the fact that getting outdoors is amazing medicine for the mind, body, and soul. Where a lot of people get hung up on getting outdoors is the fact that they think “getting outdoors” means taking some long trip or visiting somewhere exotic.
That’s not the case at all. You can find a park in any city. You can take a short drive and find a quiet place. Getting to a natural setting doesn’t mean making a journey – it simply means getting outdoors.
Another thing to keep in mind here is: as human beings – we have not changed that much in the last 10,000 years or so to think that what kept our ancient ancestors alive and well can’t do the same for us. Our bodies are designed to be in natural settings, not surrounded by concrete and drywall. I know that is a weird concept for some people to wrap their heads around. We think that because we have made all these advances in technology and are more intelligent as a species than we have ever been, that we aren’t still technically an animal. One that was designed to live in a natural setting.