Thursday, March 24, 2011
The field of ecotherapy (the use of nature in physical and psychological healing) is gaining legitimacy as a remedy for a range of mental maladies, including posttraumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and depression. Mounting evidence suggests that, in some cases, exposure to the outdoors may enhance the efficacy of antidepressants or talk therapy. If we want to improve our health and well-being as a species, there's no substitute for being in nature.
What exactly is it about the outdoors that balms the psyche? Immersion in nature calls on all of our senses, which in turn stimulates creativity and intelligence, enlivening and exciting us.
The sense of connectedness we find in nature is amplified by its power to inspire awe (the feeling of wonder we experience when faced with something that challenges or expands our understanding of the world. That wonderment - what you feel when you're, say, standing at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon - may make your everyday anxieties seem more manageable.
Natural space may be inherently stress-relieving because they provide a lot of rhythmic stimuli, such as water falling or leaves rustling. These sounds tend to provoke deep relaxation, giving us a chance to calm the speed of the mind. That frees up a lot of mental space to deal with our problems.
Immersing yourself in any natural environment can be restorative, even if it's just a patch of green in the city.
Time spent in nature is one of the only real, consistent, inexpensive antidotes to the burnout we're feeling both individually and as a society.