Ecotherapy is the act of using the healing benefits of nature to improve our mental health.
Sometimes referred to “nature therapy” or “green therapy,” ecotherapy has several amazing benefits for moms. In our modern, industrialized world, we spend so much more time indoors than we do outside in nature, and it’s starting to have a tangible effect on our mental health.
Ecotherapy is a broad term used to describe all kinds of outdoor activities that have health benefits. These can include everything from the simple act of sitting outdoors in the sunshine to hiking and mountain climbing. With benefits for the entire family, it’s a great way for moms to spend time with the kids as well as take care of themselves.
Here are some ways that moms can benefit from some of the various forms of ecotherapy.
1. Fresh Air
The obvious benefit of getting outdoors is simply to enjoy the fresh air. Inhaling fresh air, as opposed to the circulated, stale indoor air, is a great way to clear our minds and bodies. A little bit of fresh air everyday can help ward off headaches and congestion, and is great for our overall health. For those who live in crowded, busy cities, it’s worth it to get out to the country side every once in a while for a decent dose of fresh air. It’s something that far too many of us take for granted.
Warm sunshine is another building block of ecotherapy. Exposure to sun can top off our vitamin D levels, which is super important for maintaining our serotonin levels and avoiding seasonal affective disorder. Vitamin D is also important in calcium absorption, can lower your blood pressure and even help you lose weight! But make sure to protect your skin while outside, the sun’s power is both great and dangerous.
3. Physical Activity
Ecotherapy works because being outdoors has a way of inspiring us to explore, run and play. When it’s a beautiful day out, we don’t want to waste it by staying inside watching television. Just walking outdoors for an hour each day is enough to boost our moods and help us to live healthier lives. Often, the elements of nature can encourage us to take up more extreme forms of physical activity, such as hiking, biking, swimming or mountain climbing. The opportunities to get our heart pumping and work up a sweat while out in nature are endless.
4. Stimulates The Senses
It’s rare to find a form of therapy that can stimulate all of our senses at once. But ecotherapy does just that. When we’re out in nature, we feel the sun’s warmth, the delicate tickle of green grass on our toes or a light breeze against our skin. We smell the fresh air, flowers, earth and the wood of the trees. We hear birds singing, leaves rustling in the wind and the gentle trickling of water. We see flowers and landscapes in all different colors and shapes. We taste sweet berries or fruit freshly picked from the trees. Simply being outdoors is a feast for the senses.
5. Spending Time With Animals
Ecotherapy also includes spending time with animals and experiencing the benefits of some of nature’s greatest gifts. Spending time with animals can help to reduce our stress levels and boost our moods. You don’t need to have your own pet in order to get the benefits of pet therapy. A visit to a farm, petting zoo, animal shelter or even just some simple bird watching is like an instant mood booster without all the responsibility of raising your own pet.
6. Talking in Nature
Talking about feelings can be difficult for a lot of people. Especially so for moms battling a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder such as postpartum depression. Many people find it comforting to talk while going for a walk outdoors. The distraction of the sights and sounds can ease tension or awkward silence. The physical act of walking while talking can actually encourage the mind to open up even more, because it’s now being asked to multitask and thus feels less inhibited. So the next time you have something important to discuss with someone – try inviting them on a stroll through the park.
7. Digging in the Dirt
Contrary to popular belief, dirt is not dirty. Pure, rich soil from the earth is actually really good for you! By digging your bare hands (or feet) into the dirt, you can absorb the good bacteria known as Mycobacterium vaccae which is a natural antidepressant and can improve your overall health and immune system. Ecotherapy is all about ditching the gardening gloves and flip flops and becoming one with the dirt!
Since you’re already barefoot and ankle deep in dirt, you might as well plant a garden while you’re at it. There are so many health benefits of gardening that it’s the most popular form of ecotherapy. In addition the health benefits you get directly from the soil, caring for a garden is a great way to nurture your motherly instincts. Planting seeds and watching them grow into full grown plants will give you a sense of pride and accomplishment.
9. Eat a Healthier Diet
We would all love to eat farm fresh fruit and vegetables everyday, but it’s a sad fact that healthier food often tends to cost more at the local grocery store. Instead, grow healthy fruit and vegetables in your own garden. Not only will it be organic, but it will be free! A healthy diet is especially important for moms battling a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, as well as for children of all ages. Everyone in the family will be much more inclined to eat food that they’ve grown themselves.
10. Cultivate Healing Herbs
In addition to healthy fruit and vegetables, you can also grow certain herbs that offer medicinal benefits. Lavender, Chamomile and Valerian are popular ones, especially to help with sleep and reduce stress. Peppermint, rosemary, oregano, thyme and basil are great for cooking but their oils have several healing benefits as well. St. John’s Wort, known for it’s natural antidepressant properties, can easily be grown in any herb garden. There are so many different herbs available that you can grow easily and always have on hand when you need them.
11. Boosts Confidence
Growing your own plants from seedlings is a real confidence booster. In a world where parenting is so complicated and full of different opinions and methods – gardening takes you back to the beginning. Plants don’t need complicated methods – they need soil, water and sunlight to thrive. Being able to produce fruit or flowers from a tiny seed can give you a sense of pride and confidence in yourself.
12. Sleep Better
When you combine all of the fresh air, sunshine and physical activity, it adds up to one thing – a better night’s sleep! This holds true for both moms and babies. Ecotherapy is an excellent course of treatment for those with insomnia as it reduces the common culprits: stress, anxiety and depression. Try taking a nap outdoors, in a hammock or on a blanket in the grass. Between the warm sun, light breeze and bird songs you’re sure to feel relaxed. Who needs a white noise machine with “nature sounds” when you can get the live version in your own backyard?
Spending time alone in nature is incredibly peaceful, but ecotherapy can also be done as a community. Community gardens, stroller walking groups at the park or even yoga on the beach are all great forms of ecotherapy that can help to encourage social skills. Once you find an activity that you enjoy doing outdoors, reach out to see if others want to join you or if there is already a group of like-minded people who gather regularly. Being outdoors increases the probability that you will encounter and socialize with others in your community, which is great for your mental health.
14. An Outlet for Anger
Ecotherapy can also help with anger management issues. Try bushwhacking some hedges when you’re feeling frustrated and full of rage. Kick some rocks or punch a tree – I promise, they can handle it. Sitting alone in nature is also a great place to find peace. Meditate, even speak out loud to the plants, insects, animals and trees. They make great listeners and they won’t judge you or tell your secrets. It might sound silly, but saying something out loud, regardless of who is listening or not, is a lot different than simply thinking about it.
15. Reduces Anxiety
A major cause of anxiety for many people is the thought of death, illness or harm. Spending time observing nature can give us a better appreciation of the life cycle and realize that everything happens for a reason. The old leaves fall off the trees to make way for new growth. Plants sprout from a single seed, produce their fruit, get old and wither. Their fruit grows several new plants and the cycle continues again. We see some plants lost to neighborhood rabbits, others to nature’s elements. And we realize that all life has a meaning and purpose.
16. Find Hope for the Future
Taking care of the earth, whether it’s in the form of gardening, raising animals or simply observing nature around you, is one way to remain hopeful. A mother suffering from postpartum depression, for example, may have trouble seeing the future beyond all of the darkness. Ecotherapy reminds us all that life, like nature, continues despite bad weather, cold, darkness and drought. Even when things seem at their worst, the sun will come out again and all will be well.