Green therapy is the name of a new therapeutic practice in which one’s experiences in nature aid in strengthening and rejuvenating one’s mental well-being.
Some believe that green therapy is total nonsense and could never provide one’s mind-body connection – the link between a person’s mental well-being and how those emotions influence our overall health – with any concrete benefits. But others would disagree.
While I completely understand being skeptical of green therapy as another self-help fad, I turn to science to argue for its potential benefits and necessity in our lives.
According to PsychologyToday.com, our autonomic nervous system – the network of nerves controlling our unconscious processes, such as breathing and heart rate – is comprised of two parts, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Sound confusing? Let me clarify.
The sympathetic division of our brain controls our fight-or-flight responses during times of stress and anxiety. The parasympathetic division of our brain, on the other hand, controls our rest-and-digest response during times of relaxation. Studies have found that green therapy helps reduce cortisol levels in the body – the stress hormone – and returns one’s physical and mental well-being to a parasympathetic state – a time of harmony and calm.
Our society often turns to medications and negative dependencies to help combat increased stress levels arising from the global pandemic, political and financial unrest, and other societal issues. Green therapy could be the more healthful practice you need to alter your well-being.
If you suffer from severe mental health issues, I’m in no way saying that replacing professional treatment with a walk in the park will be the cure-all. But for those impacted by mild mental health issues such as anxiety, green therapy, when practiced correctly, could be highly beneficial. Here’s how it works.
Disconnect from Technology
The key to green therapy is turning off all the distractions around you to be fully mindful of your natural surroundings. This will undoubtedly be an incredible challenge for most people as cell phones have become another appendage to our bodies, often preventing us from being able to successfully separate ourselves from their grasp. Society has a real problem disconnecting from the digital world, and that challenge has led to relationship issues with others and even ourselves. So if you’re serious about a green therapy practice, turn off your electronic devices (not silence them) and do not listen to music or other programming during the practice.
Find the Perfect Spot for You
The locations are endless – a forest, park, trail, garden, or quiet beach. Make sure the terrain is flat for gentle walking and temperatures are mild if possible. The air should be fragrant, not overrun with unpleasant odors, and it should be moderately quiet and filled with an abundance of natural beauty to entice your senses.
Putting Your Senses to Work
Once you’ve found your ideal location, find a quiet spot where you can acclimate to your new environment. Let your senses bathe in their surroundings as you breathe in and out to help align your focus on the practice at hand. Clear all other thoughts and worries from your mind and be in the here and now with nature to guide you.
Start walking! Green therapy is not exercise and not a race. You need to move around slowly and methodically to get maximum benefits from this practice. Stop to take notice of the natural environment around you – something you’ve probably ignored many times before. Believe it or not, just 20 minutes in practice can actually be highly beneficial to your overall mood. If you think about how much time you waste playing on your phone daily, you should have no issues finding 20 minutes for this mindful practice.
Green therapy can also be practiced quite simply. Leaving your phone indoors, sit out on your deck or patio in a comfortable chair that makes you feel relaxed and at rest, or better yet, if you have a lawn, lay down and feel the cool blades of grass as they caress your skin. You can practice the same mindfulness in your own backyard if you follow the steps above. But instead of walking, remain seated while still engaging all your senses for a dedicated period of time in your natural environment.
Green therapy is all about allowing nature to inspire your inner spirit. But it’s also about disconnecting from all the distractions in life and reconnecting with the one person we so often ignore as we go about our chaotic days – ourselves.