Ecotherapy, a natural calling

Trainee psychologist Nicola talks about

Recently there has been a surge of scientific evidence that spending time in nature is beneficial for mental health. Yet what is it specifically about nature that seems so powerful? Let’s try and unravel this concept of ‘ecotherapy’.

To begin, a humbling reminder; human beings are nature. In a world of technology this is easy to forget. I always find that reminding myself that we are all here to live in harmony tends to shift my perspective.

Spending time in nature positively influences mental health by boosting mood and self-esteem while also reducing stress, anxiety and depression amongst other mental health disorders. It seems that interacting with nature offers therapeutic benefits to the senses as well as the brain. Calming sounds such as birds chirping, or waves lapping alongside pleasing visual stimulus can have a soothing effect on the nervous system and can lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.

This all seems well and good but with growing numbers of people living in urban settings we must find realistic ways that we can reconnect with nature and dedicate time to focusing on our psychological wellbeing. Research does suggest that conscious perception of the environment may offer greater benefits. So, it might be worth ditching the phone and making a deliberate effort to look to the tops of trees and listen to see if you can distinguish the sounds around you. It’s about trial on error, finding ways of bonding with nature that you love, but here are some suggestions.

1. Gardening: This could include growing plants or vegetables, picking flowers and fruits, and gardening with others or evening pulling the weeds!! It’s even possible in the city, nurturing a single plant pot can offer you something to focus on and something to nurture.

2. Making the outdoors part of your everyday: Walk to work, eating outside, looking at the stars or moon last things before bed, picnics, reading your book in the sun, instead of meeting a friend for a coffee indoors take it to the park. Even in the rain, umbrellas are magical inventions.

3. Give back to nature: Try activities that involve helping the environment like litter picking, planting for the bees or installing a bird feeder.

4. Animals: Animals just like us make up nature. If you don’t have any pets maybe see if your neighbours would let you walk their dog every now and then, look skyward and listen to the hum of the insects in the summer air.

It may be worth including friends, colleagues or family in your pursuit and it might make it all the more special. The benefits are seen by all individuals of different ages and circumstance but research has found that those suffering from mental health difficulties have found an even more pronounced benefit. This is not a substitute for professional help and help by mental health professionals should be sought by those in need. It is just a simple additional thing we could all incorporate into our daily lives. Try even spending five extra conscious minutes outside today, you simply won’t regret it!


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Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010).
What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis. Environmental Science & Technology, 44(10), 3947-3955. Retrieved from doi:10.1021/es903183r

Burls, A. (2007).
People and green spaces: promoting public health and mental well-being through ecotherapy. Journal of public mental health, 6(3), 24-39.

Cervinka, R., Röderer, K., & Hefler, E. (2012).
Are nature lovers happy? On various indicators of well-being and connectedness with nature. Journal of Health Psychology, 17(3), 379-388.\