There's been a growing interest in the positive impact of spending time in nature. It is well known that being in nature is relaxing; however, evidence also shows that natural environments can help relieve symptoms of both physical and psychological distress.
If we tap into this healing power, we are engaging in ecotherapy, also called “green therapy” or “nature therapy.” With no shortage of green space in Hong Kong, there’s zero excuse for not spending time outside.
Here are some benefits of ecotherapy along with a few suggestions on how to incorporate it into your life:
It's naturally soothing
Ecotherapy takes advantage of the calming and balancing benefits of the human-nature relationship. From lowering blood pressure and pulse, to slowing our breathing and giving us increased mental clarity, it has been shown that the sounds and rhythms of the natural world are calming.
Water flowing in streams or birds chirping seem to naturally alleviate human stress and anxiety. When in nature, mindfully focusing our awareness on the experience of the natural world around us is the best way to access these therapeutic benefits.
Exercise is good for you; exercising in nature is even better
Being physically active causes our body to release endorphins, which are the feel-good chemicals or “happy hormones” in our brains. People who run are already familiar with the “runner’s high.”
Similarly, exercising in a natural environment (“nature exercise”) not only releases these same endorphins, but also helps you feel the positive benefits of endorphins even more intensely due to the tranquil setting.
It can improve your mental wellbeing
Make time for nature, and learn to appreciate the world around you. Some psychologists believe that mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression arise because we are too alienated and disconnected from the natural environment.
Ecotherapy aims to reconnect us with nature and thus heal this disconnect.
Spend quality time with Mother Nature
In our hectic daily lives, we get occupied and distracted with work, relationships, and other activities of living and we forget about the comfort found in Mother Nature. We should consciously strive to spend time outside.
Make intentions to walk to work, when and if possible. Spend time at sea, in the mountains, or in the forest. Plant a garden. Swim in the ocean, hike, cycle, have a picnic and spend time with your family or pets outdoors. All of these activities provide quality time with our Earth Mother and hold us in her naturally healing embrace.
Also remember that as the Earth heals us, we can also do our part in healing the Earth. Let’s reciprocate the kindness of nature by doing what is right for our planet. Recycle, reuse, conserve, and reduce waste. After all, one good deed deserves another.
The health of humanity is intimately interconnected to the health of our planet, so in doing what’s best for the Earth we are also doing what’s best for ourselves; it’s the ultimate compassionate act of self-care.
Dr. Michael Eason is a psychologist and US licensed therapist practicing at MindnLife in Central, Hong Kong.