Ecotherapy: How Contact With Nature Can Improve Your Well-Being

Yesterday, my team and I completed a large project. As we stood surveying our work, we were overcome by emotion. It had taken us months, working together, to coax seven gardens into full bloom. You could say that the plants had really done a number on us.

No, it hadn’t been easy. But now, a cornucopia of fall colors was our long-awaited reward. We all felt a profound sense of well-being.

THE IDEA BEHIND ECOTHERAPY

There’s a relatively new field in town called ecotherapy. Also known as green therapy, it is increasingly being used to improve people’s mental and physical well-being. Broadly speaking, ecotherapy promotes interaction with nature as a means to fostering healing and growth. 

forest path

Think of it as the health of a human viewed in context with the health of the Earth. We often forget that man depends on the natural environment and its ecosystems for survival. Ecotherapy seeks to realign people with their surroundings while also safeguarding and improving their local environments. 

THE TRANSFORMATIVE EFFECTS OF NATURE

Indeed, research shows that contact with nature can transform us. Not only does it boost our moods, but evidence shows that it can even help with mild forms of depression. In fact, studies have shown that when people are given plants to care for, it not only strengthens their social connections, but also produces increased levels of happiness.

group of houseplants

Houseplants can boost our sense of connectedness

Countless poets have written about this feeling of connectedness towards each other and plants and the inner joy a person can experience in nature.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,

‘Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”

lake in Glacier National Park

Lake in Glacier National Park

Perhaps it’s the combination of physical activity coupled with being outdoors, but I feel considerably better when I’m immersed in my garden. Almost daily, I enter the yard only to discover something new. Monte Don, gardener and TV presenter wrote in a column for Gardener’s World that “When you plant something, you invest in a beautiful future.” It’s true that sowing a seed or nurturing a plant naturally affirms our faith in a good outcome.

Or as Walt Whitman wrote,

“Keep your face always toward the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.”

field of sunflowers

ECOTHERAPY IS FREE AND ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYONE!

My boyfriend wasn’t a gardener before we met. But after almost a decade together, he has developed not only a keen knowledge of plants, but distinct preferences for some species over others. Lately, I’ve even caught him weeding.

Recently he came into the house to report on all the pollinator activity going on in the garden. His eyes lit up as he described the range in size and color of the bees he had observed over the course of the afternoon. I smiled to myself. His eyes had been opened to a whole new world of plants and the workings of tiny living beings.

In my case, it’s the sensation of my hands in the dirt, the sound of the wind in the leaves and the changes in the songs of the birds that thrill me. Or the interesting fact that many butterflies’ wings seem to match the flower they pollinate. You could say I’ve been undergoing ecotherapy for years.

monarch on butterfly weed

W.B. Yeats summed it up beautifully. He wrote,

‘The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.’

There’s so much to observe, right under our very noses. Taking time to note all the goings-on around us helps us step outside of ourselves and take a broader interest in our environment.

ECOTHERAPY FOSTERS SOCIAL CONNECTIONS

Finally, there’s the social aspect of ecotherapy. In my view, you can’t beat the feeling of gardening with others. I’ve learned a lot about my team as we’ve installed countless plants, stepping back to see which ones look right where. Previously shy members have suddenly revealed a great eye for color or for cutting curves. Another shown a talent for designing containers. We’ve discovered so much about each other over the course of the years.

Part of my incredible team

This is certainly how we felt yesterday while contemplating our creation. Suffused with a profound sense of accomplishment, we embraced the beauty in all things. I’d say it was ecotherapy at its finest.

Or, as William Wordsworth put it,

“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.”

And so it was. 

For more information on ecotherapy and its programs, check out Making sense of ecotherapy.

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Lodgepole pine forest

Lodgepole pine forest

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Me, my dad and my sister circa 1965

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View from atop the Bavarian Alps

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Photos of snowflakes by Wilson Bentley

Wilson Bentley Digital Archives of the Jericho Historical Society/snowflakebentley.com   

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Revolving carousel at Macy’s Spring Flower Show

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