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Ecotherapy: Does Time Outdoors Improve Your Mental Health?

Mental health problems are common among Americans. According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 51.5 million adults had mental illness in 2019. These include a variety of conditions, from mild to moderate to severe. Anxiety disorders and major depressive episodes are two of the top prevalent conditions, affecting 19.1 percent and 7.8 percent of American adults, respectively.

However, mental health problems continue to be a public health concern as the country faces a pandemic. The threat of COVID-19 causes stress and anxiety among citizens. Plus, spending an extended period in isolation and social distancing have caused loneliness to many people.

Although mental health problems are common, help is available. Multiple treatments can help you or someone you know recovers, from therapy to medication.

Ecotherapy: Keeping Your Mental Health in Check

There are several ways to treat a mental health problem. One approach that’s gaining popularity is spending more time outdoors and exposing yourself to nature. Also known as “ecotherapy,” it helps people develop a deep connection to their environment and to the earth itself. Failing such a connection is believed to affect one’s mental well-being.

Several studies suggest time outdoors is beneficial for people’s mental health. In an article, Harvard Health Publishing of the Harvard Medical School explains spending time in nature can reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. Although it’s still unclear why outdoor excursions improve mental health, research shows people who did a nature walk showcased lower activity in the prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain is active during rumination, a loop of negative thoughts.

Walking along the beach or hiking in a forested area is one way to do ecotherapy. But there are formal approaches you can participate in where a therapist will guide you.

Forest bathing, for example, is a mindful way to spend time in nature. Popularized by the Japanese, this form of ecotherapy aims to help people break from technology and reconnect with and protect the country’s forests. Make sure to use your five senses while you explore a forest or any tree-heavy area.

You can also practice ecotherapy at home. This minimizes your risks of getting coronavirus. Gardening, for example, allows you to spend time outdoors while keeping your body active. Working out and doing yoga in your backyard is also an ideal way to keep your mind and body healthy.

Improving your home’s outdoor space makes nature more accessible without leaving your house. Add a few outdoor features to make it more liveable, like an outdoor fireplace. Consider a fireplace insert so that you can effectively light it up anytime you need to warm up the place.

Ecotherapy is not only a daytime activity. You can also go stargazing with your family and friends. Dark nature can also provide similar benefits as daytime ecotherapy, such as feelings of calm, relaxation, and better connection to the natural world.

Other treatments for mental health disorders include psychotherapy and medications, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and mood-stabilizing medications. The treatment depends on the disorder and its severity.

Seeking professional help is essential if you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health disorder. In the US, only 43.8 percent of adults with mental illness received treatment in 2019. If a mental illness is left untreated, it can significantly affect someone’s life.

How Mental Health Problems Affect One’s Way of Life

Mental health has an impact on someone’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. The state of your mental health also affects how you handle stress, make choices, and relate to other people. That’s why it is essential to maintain a healthy mental well-being.

Experiencing a mental health problem can take a toll on your mood, thinking, and behavior. It can also interfere with your day-to-day life. Depending on the severity of the disorder, an individual can experience sleeping disorders, be it sleeping too much or too little. They could also have low or no energy to perform daily tasks, like getting to work or school or looking after their kids.

For more severe cases, individuals with a mental health problem can think of hurting themselves or others. They might also experience mood swings that can affect their relationships with other people.

Other symptoms include feeling forgetful, upset, scared, worried, on edge, or confused. They might also drink, smoke, or use drugs more often than usual.

Maintaining mental health is as important as keeping your body fit and healthy. Feeling stressed and lonely is normal. But if they start to affect your way of life, it’s important to take action to stay mentally healthy. Seek support from your family, friends, or professionals to help you cope healthily.

Try different approaches, like ecotherapy, to see which one will help you cope better. You can also combine multiple approaches for better results.

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