Do you feel connected to the earth and the environment? Or is your relationship to nature something you overlook or neglect? In our modernized, urbanized, and digital world, we connect with nature less directly than we used to. There’s distance between us and the natural world. Could this distance be affecting our health? A growing movement within the field of psychology theorizes that disconnection from nature does impact our health, particularly our mental health. Research suggests one remedy for mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and ADHD is ecotherapy.
A wide spectrum of activities can be considered forms of ecotherapy. Really anything outdoors or somehow connected to nature counts. More formally, ecotherapy is a structured activity led by a trained professional in a green environment focused on exploring and appreciating the natural world with other people. Some examples include community gardening, equestrian therapy, birdwatching, wilderness adventure activities, and outdoor yoga and meditation.
We can practice ecotherapy through our relationship with food as well. Nourishing our bodies with food is a great physical reminder that we too are part of the earth. Now that we can order food through mobile apps on our phones and pick up groceries without getting out of our cars, we can easily forget that food comes from the earth. But if we trace our nourishment back to the source, we are pointed back to the natural world.
Here are a few ecotherapy practices that can help you foster your relationship to nature and nourish your mind, body, and spirit:
- Pack a picnic or eat a meal outside. Eating in a new environment might encourage more mindful eating – noticing things like the sunlight, the feel of gentle breeze, the steam rising off your food, and the aroma, flavor, and texture of what you are eating.
- Consider the food’s story. Where did your meal come from? What plants or animals were the ingredients sourced from? How were those foods processed? Who prepared the food? Notice how this might deepen your appreciation for the meal!
- Grow your own food or purchase it locally from a farmstand or farmers market. Growing your own food exposes you to the food in a new way and allows you to follow the food’s story from seed to harvest. Purchasing food locally is another way to get closer to the source, providing an opportunity to connect with the farmer, engage in your community, and eat what’s available based on the season.
- Compost your food scraps. So often, we find ourselves taking and utilizing resources from the natural world. Composting is one way to give something back to the earth.
- Try a new form of physical activity outside. Maybe this is going for a bike ride, gardening or doing yard work, or hiking on a new trail.
These simple activities can have a profound effect. Some potential benefits include stress relief, increased mindfulness, increased physical activity, and increased production of vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. Whatever your health goals are, ecotherapy provides a practical way to improve your wellness!