Nature Therapy: Healing through Connection to Nature  

Every day, across the country, people sit inside therapists’ offices working hard to find relief from suffering of all kinds: abuses from childhood, losses and grief, sadness, anger, loneliness. From within those four walls, therapists work equally hard to understand their clients’ suffering and to discern which approaches and techniques might best ease the suffering and, ultimately, bring lasting relief.

Increasingly, however, therapists are looking beyond the confines of concrete and drywall and considering how the natural world might give rise to healing. Indeed, for many thousands of years, people have turned to nature in times of suffering and discomfort.

Being in Nature Promotes a Healthy Mind and Body

It is hard to describe exactly how nature helps heal, comfort, and nurture our minds; yet, intuitively, undeniably, it happens. A growing body of scientific studies tell us nature helps decrease loneliness, depression, and anxiety; regulate the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems; and decrease salivary cortisol levels, which relate to stress. Research has also found being in nature lifts our moods, improves cognition, and promotes positive feelings.

As for physical health, study after study reveals the same. Lowered blood pressure, blood glucose, and pulse rates; increased immune functions; and quicker post-surgery recovery are among the many documented health benefits of time spent in nature. Several research projects even found spending time in nature may offer preventative effects on the development of cancer.

But it’s More than That, Too

There are certain intangible forces which are intuitively healing. These forces are hard to define, hard to explain, and hard to quantify. Yet they have been an important part of healing for centuries. Storytelling, written word, art, music, and dance are but a few examples of these forces. Connecting with nature is also one of these forces.

We’ve been connected to nature for a very long time.

The past several decades have seen a monumental shift in people’s connection with nature. Before television, computers, air conditioning, and electricity made living and working inside more comfortable, we spent more time outside – walking, playing, socializing, working. Only recently have we moved away from the natural world. We have buffered ourselves from the natural rhythms of day and night, moon phases, day length, and seasons. Increasingly, therapists and others believe this disconnect from nature contributes to increased stress, depression, and anxiety.

Getting Reconnected

It can be as simple as sitting on your porch, opening the window, going on a walk, watching the clouds with your child, or splashing in a creek.

Whatever or however you choose to connect with nature, here are a few ideas to try:

1)     Take a few minutes to engage all your senses. Notice what you see, hear, feel, and smell.

2)     Attend a class or guided hike to learn more about the natural world around you.

3)     Take your shoes and socks off and sit or walk barefoot; or, garden without gloves.

Nature is waiting.

amy sugeno