We all love a good dose of mother nature. And as more concrete jungles pop up around us, we’re exposed to fewer trees and plants. But recent studies have found that if you tend to feel low or stressed out, it might be worth heading to a garden close-by instead of popping a pill. The former is called green therapy and we’ve put together all that there is to know about it.
Green Therapy Involves Working In And Experiencing Nature
Green therapy, also known as nature therapy or ecotherapy, is about the psychological benefits of being in nature and natural surroundings. It is a combination of the ideas of ecopsychology and psychotherapy.
Ecopsychology focuses on the relationship between humans and nature whereas psychotherapy focuses on helping individuals understand and create meaning from the emotional and psychological difficulties they are experiencing.
Green therapy can take place in both rural and urban settings, such as parks, farms, gardens, and woodlands. The main focus of green therapy activities is working in nature and experiencing nature. The therapy aims at promoting good mental health through contact with nature.
The Types Of Green Therapy Vary Based On The Nature Of Activities
The main types of green therapy programs are listed below.
- Adventure Therapy – This therapy involves physical activities along with psychological exercises. This is usually carried out in groups. It includes activities like rafting, rock climbing, and exploring caves. It helps build trust and boost confidence.
- Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) – This activity involves spending time with animals – feeding or petting them – in open spaces like farms. It helps mobility or adaptability and improves coordination.
- Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) – This is a formal therapy conducted by professional therapists. This therapy focuses on the interaction and bonding between individuals and animals like horses and dogs. This can be a one-to-one activity or a group activity.
- Care Farming – This activity involves working on farms. Growing crops, looking after farm animals, and helping to manage the farm areas are some of the tasks involved in care farming.
- Environmental Conservation (Green Gyms) – This involves a combination of physical exercise with conservation work. The task involves protecting and conserving natural space and habitat. There will be a group leader who will help you perform exercises and use tools appropriately.
- Green Exercise Therapy – This involves physical activities or exercises in green spaces like walking, running, and cycling. This is usually led by a trained instructor.
- Nature Arts And Crafts – This includes using natural materials like wood, clay, or grass or creating art in the natural environment. You can also create a piece of art using the scenery as inspiration.
- Social And Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) – This involves gardening or growing food in community gardens or nurseries. These are led by experienced and qualified tutors. This can help in building work experience like selling your produce in markets.
- Wilderness Therapy – As the name suggests, this involves spending time in the wild in groups. The tasks involve building shelters and hiking. Building a relationship with the outdoors is essential to this therapy. It also helps to improve your self-awareness and helps eliminate a mental block that holds you back.
Green Therapy Promotes Healthy Lifestyle Habits
1. Encourages Physical Activities
Regular physical activities benefit the body physically and mentally. They can have immediate and long-term benefits. Engaging in regular physical activities may have the following benefits:1
- Reduced risk of heart attacks
- Better weight management
- Lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes and other cancers
- Promotes healthy feelings – better moods, positive energy, in turn, relaxed and better sleep
Green therapy engages people in physical activities not focusing on them as activities to improve their health. It brings people closer in natural environments and gives them the time to build their pace in the activity. As more people get involved, they become more active and learn the benefits of being active. Also, green therapy does not restrict anyone in participation. Anyone with any fitness level can take part in the activities. This helps increase their flexibility and stamina and manage physical conditions better.
2. Increases Social Involvement
Most of the activities of green therapy involve groups; therefore, there is a lot of communication among the group members. Working in groups allows you to make friends and you feel accepted and normal at the same time. When people with similar disabilities or problems come together, you begin to realize that you are not in it alone and that you can share your feelings better with one who shares your experiences.
People who are retired may be more prone to loneliness and social isolation; therefore, green therapy provides an opportunity for them to keep themselves occupied.
3. Adds Social Value
Green therapy gives an opportunity for people to do something useful for their community. It also means that people begin to develop certain skills. They begin to realize how their actions can have an impact on nature. Some also gain qualifications and work experience which may help them in future.
The task can be as simple as improving local green spaces like parks or gardens. It brings an awareness about conservation and the local environment among people. It also provides a chance for people belonging to the older community to interact and communicate with neighbors and friends in the area.
4. Enhances Well-Being
Green therapy also increases one’s well-being. Working in groups with different people allows you to interact with different kinds of people and make friends with them. You are able to do something enjoyable and worthwhile and at the same time share the feelings with your group members.
You also feel positive and relaxed and that also reflects how you handle situations in life. It is also a chance to learn a new skill or develop a new interest. Even though you are working in a group, you are doing the task on your own which helps build your confidence. At the same time, when you observe how others handle a task, it gives you the motivation to carry it out by yourself.
Green Therapy Promotes Better Physical And Mental Health
One of the main benefits that green therapy provides is the improvement of an individual’s mental health.
1. Reduces Rumination
Rumination is thoughts that focus on one’s distress, its possible causes, and consequences rather than the solution. It is one of the risk factors for mental illness.
There is a study that supports that natural environment can bring positive changes to mental health. The researchers in the study investigated, through a controlled experiment, the effect of nature on rumination.2
The participants in this study took a 90-minute walk in a natural environment and an urban environment. Results reported lower levels of rumination in those who took a walk in the natural environment than those who took the walk in the urban setting. This suggests that natural surroundings play a role in mental health.
2. Decreases ADHD Symptoms
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most common neurobehavioral disorder of childhood. Regular exercise and outdoor activities have been found to help children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and depression. Children with ADHD who spent time in outdoor activities like running, hiking, and others showed fewer ADHD symptoms than those who spent their time indoors.
A study examined the effects of natural settings on children with ADHD symptoms and the results proved that there is a significant reduction in the symptoms.3 Along with the regular medications given for children with ADHD, involving them in outdoor activities may have an added effect.
3. Lowers Stress And Anxiety
Most of us experience stress at some point irrespective of our age. Green therapy plays a role in bringing down stress and anxiety levels. The following studies show positive effects of green therapy on stress and anxiety.4
- A study of inmates in a Michigan prison proved that prisoners used the infirmary 24 percent more often when placed in a cell facing a courtyard than those placed in a cell facing a farmland.
- There is a study that suggests that wilderness therapy is more effective than traditional programs in promoting self-esteem, behavioral changes, and other interpersonal skills among juvenile offenders.
- A study regarding the duration of stay after operation reports that patients with trees instead of walls to look at faced shorter stay at the hospital. Also, patients who looked at pictures of open water felt less postoperative anxiety than those with a white panel or no picture to look at.
- Animal-assisted therapy model helps those victims of sexual abuse. It was observed that with the therapy there was a decrease in the victims’ anxiety and physiological arousal. There was also an increase in social interaction and a reduced number of therapy sessions.
- Animal-assisted therapy has also proved successful with Alzheimer’s patients whose aggressive behavior decreased with their interactions with a dog.
- In a controlled study, patients suffering from schizophrenia, anxiety, affective disorders, and personality disorders showed significant
improvement in coping ability, self-efficacy, symptom reduction, and quality of life after spending three hours twice a week working farm animals for 12 weeks.
4. Relieves Depression
Green therapy involves both physical activity and interaction with other people. This is known to fight mild to severe depression. Green therapy tasks can fight loneliness and boost self-esteem, both that help combat depression.
There is a study that shows more than 70 percent of individuals who participated in green therapy were at a lower risk of depression than those who did not.5
Exposure to nature can eliminate depressed and stressed feelings and make you feel calm and balanced. Nature can bring about a positive mood and psychological well-being.
So, the next time you feel low because you had a bad day at work or school, go for a walk in your nearest park, breathe the fresh air, and listen to the sounds that make you happy like the giggles of the children playing. Return home and observe how you feel. If you feel that nature has made a difference, try to make it a part of your daily routine.
|↑1||Physical activity – it’s important. Better Health Channel.|
|↑2||Bratman, Gregory N., J. Paul Hamilton, Kevin S. Hahn, Gretchen C. Daily, and James J. Gross. “Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation.” Proceedings of the national academy of sciences 112, no. 28 (2015): 8567-8572.|
|↑3||Kuo, Frances E., and Andrea Faber Taylor. “A potential natural treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: evidence from a national study.” American journal of public health 94, no. 9 (2004): 1580-1586.|
|↑4||Chalquist, Craig. “A look at the ecotherapy research evidence.” Ecopsychology 1, no. 2 (2009): 64-74.|
|↑5||Natural Therapy for Mental Health. Association for Natural Psychology.|