Nature therapy explained: types, benefits, and DIY tips
By Remy Meraz • March 21, 2023
Many of us lead busy lives, spending countless hours working or studying, leaving little time for self-care and relaxation. In times like these, it's essential to find ways to disconnect from the stresses of modern life and reconnect with nature. This is where nature therapy comes in - a practice that involves spending time in nature to improve mental and physical well-being.
In this blog post, we will explore the different types of nature therapy, the benefits it offers, and some DIY tips to help you incorporate nature therapy into your daily routine. Whether you're looking to reduce stress, boost your mood, or simply enjoy the great outdoors, this post has something for everyone. So, let's dive in and discover the power of nature therapy!
Explanation of nature therapy
Nature therapy, also known as ecotherapy or green therapy, is a form of therapy that involves spending time in nature to improve mental and physical health. The concept of nature therapy has been around for centuries, with many ancient cultures believing in the healing powers of nature. However, the modern-day practice of nature therapy can be traced back to the early 20th century when American naturalist John Muir wrote about the therapeutic benefits of spending time in nature.
Nature therapy gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s when Japanese researchers began studying the effects of nature on human health. The Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, or "forest bathing," involves immersing oneself in nature to reduce stress and promote relaxation. The concept of Shinrin-yoku was popularized in Japan by the government in the 1980s as a way to promote public mental health treatment there.
In the Western world, nature therapy gained popularity in the 2000s as a response to the growing awareness of the negative impact of urbanization and modern lifestyles on mental and physical health. Today, nature therapy is a widely accepted practice, with many healthcare professionals recommending spending time in nature as a way to reduce stress, improve mood, and promote overall well-being.
Types of nature therapy
Nature therapy involves a more holistic and creative approach to addressing physical and mental illness, and unlike traditional talk therapy settings, it allows individuals to take charge of their own mental health wherever they are and connect with the Earth to develop coping skills. Some of the most popular nature-based therapeutic programs include:
Horticulture or horticultural therapy is a type of ecotherapy that involves using gardening and plants to promote physical and mental well-being. This form of therapy has been around for centuries, with ancient cultures recognizing the therapeutic benefits of gardening. Horticulture therapy has since evolved into a structured form of therapy, with trained professionals leading group sessions or one-on-one sessions with patients.
The activities involved in social and therapeutic horticulture can include planting, pruning, and harvesting plants, as well as other gardening-related tasks such as soil preparation and composting. These activities provide a sense of purpose and accomplishment for participants, which can help to boost self-esteem and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Horticulture therapy also offers a unique opportunity for patients to connect with nature and appreciate the natural beauty of the world around them.
In addition to the psychological benefits, horticulture therapy can also have physical benefits. The physical activity involved in gardening can improve muscle strength, flexibility, and endurance, which can be particularly beneficial for older adults or those with physical limitations. Horticulture therapy has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and lower levels of stress hormones, which can help to improve overall cardiovascular health.
Animal-assisted therapy has been shown to be particularly effective in treating conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. The presence of an animal can help to reduce stress and anxiety levels and provide a sense of comfort and security. This can help individuals to feel more relaxed and open to the therapeutic process.
One of the key benefits of animal-assisted therapy is the bond that forms between the animal and the individual receiving therapy. This bond can be incredibly powerful and can provide a sense of connection and companionship that may be lacking in an individual's everyday life otherwise. Additionally, animals can be incredibly intuitive and can often sense when an individual is feeling anxious or upset, providing comfort and support in these moments.
Animal-assisted therapy can take many forms, depending on the specific needs of the individual receiving therapy. For example, therapy dogs may be used to help individuals with anxiety disorders to feel more relaxed and comfortable in social situations. Horses may be used to help individuals with PTSD to build trust and overcome feelings of fear and anxiety.
Wilderness therapy can take many forms, depending on the specific needs of the individual or group. Some programs may focus on personal development, while others may be designed to address specific issues such as addiction or trauma. Regardless of the specific focus, wilderness therapy offers a unique and powerful approach to promoting personal growth and emotional healing through exposure to the natural world.
Participants in wilderness therapy programs engage in a variety of activities, including hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities. These activities are designed to push individuals outside of their comfort zones, allowing them to overcome personal challenges and build resilience in the face of adversity. Through these experiences, participants can develop a greater sense of self-reliance and confidence in their ability to overcome obstacles.
In addition to the physical challenges of wilderness therapy, participants also have the opportunity to develop emotional connections with nature. Spending time in natural environments has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels, improve mood, and promote a sense of well-being. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals struggling with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.
The practice of forest bathing involves spending time in natural environments, such as forests or wooded areas, and engaging in activities that promote relaxation and connection with nature. This can include activities such as walking, meditation, and breathing exercises, as well as simply sitting and observing the natural surroundings.
Studies have shown that spending time in natural environments can have a variety of physical and mental health benefits. For example, exposure to nature has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels, lower blood pressure, and improve immune function. Additionally, spending time in nature can improve mood and increase feelings of happiness and well-being.
One of the unique aspects of forest bathing is its focus on mindfulness and awareness. By immersing oneself in nature and engaging in activities such as meditation and deep breathing, individuals can become more present and aware of their surroundings. This can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and promote relaxation.
Forest bathing can be practiced alone or in a group setting, and can be adapted to fit individual needs and preferences. Whether it's taking a leisurely walk through a park or sitting quietly by a stream, the practice of forest bathing offers a powerful way to reduce stress and promote relaxation through connection with the natural world.
Nature art therapy
Nature art therapy is based on the idea that creating art can help individuals express emotions, process difficult experiences, and develop a greater sense of self-awareness. By incorporating natural materials into the artistic process, participants can also connect with the natural world and gain a deeper appreciation for the beauty of nature.
The act of creating art with natural materials has been shown to have numerous mental health benefits. Studies have found that nature art therapy can help to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, improve mood, and increase feelings of well-being. The creative process involved in nature art therapy can also help individuals to develop a greater sense of self-esteem and self-confidence.
Nature art therapy can take many different forms, depending on the specific needs of the individual or group. Some programs may focus on creating individual pieces of art, while others may involve group activities such as creating a collaborative art installation in a natural setting. The use of natural materials in the artistic process can also vary, with some programs focusing on foraging and collecting materials in the natural environment, while others may use pre-collected materials.
5 physical and mental health benefits of nature therapy
Overall, nature therapy offers numerous physical and mental health benefits. By spending time in natural environments and engaging in activities that promote relaxation, physical activity, and connection with nature, individuals can improve their overall well-being and quality of life.
Decreased anxiety, stress, and depression
Studies have shown that spending time in natural environments can have a positive impact on mental health. Exposure to nature can reduce stress and anxiety levels, lower symptoms of depression, and improve overall mental wellness.
Nature therapy can have a significant impact on mood. Spending time in natural environments has been shown to increase feelings of happiness, contentment, and overall well-being.
Increased self-esteem and confidence
Nature therapy can provide a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. Activities such as hiking or gardening can improve physical fitness and provide a sense of achievement, which can boost self-esteem and confidence.
Better physical health
Nature therapy can also have a positive impact on physical health. Spending time in natural environments can improve cardiovascular health, reduce blood pressure, and increase physical fitness. Additionally, exposure to natural light and fresh air through green exercise can promote overall physical well-being.
Improved social connections
Participating in nature therapy activities in a group setting can promote social connections and a sense of community. Engaging in activities such as hiking or gardening with others can foster a sense of camaraderie and provide opportunities for meaningful social interactions.
DIY tips for nature therapy
Gardening in a small space
Gardening is a rewarding and therapeutic activity that can benefit people with mental health disorders in many ways. However, for individuals living in small spaces, such as apartments or urban areas, the idea of gardening may seem impossible. Fortunately, gardening in a small space is possible, and it can be a fulfilling and stress-reducing activity for individuals with mental health disorders.
One of the main benefits of gardening for mental health is the sense of accomplishment and purpose it provides. Gardening allows individuals to connect with nature, engage in physical activity, and cultivate something that is both beautiful and useful. For individuals with mental health disorders, this can be a powerful tool for building self-esteem and promoting a sense of personal growth.
Gardening in a small space may seem challenging, but there are many simple projects that can be done with minimal equipment and space. Here are some DIY tips for gardening in a small space:
Container gardening is a great way to grow plants in a small space. It involves using pots or containers to grow plants, which can be placed on balconies, windowsills, or other small spaces. Choose plants that thrive in small containers, such as herbs, lettuce, or cherry tomatoes.
Vertical gardening involves growing plants vertically, using walls or trellises to support the plants. This technique is ideal for small spaces and can be used to grow a variety of plants, including vegetables, herbs, and flowers.
Terrariums are small, enclosed ecosystems that can be created in glass containers. These mini-gardens or green spaces can be created with a variety of plants, such as succulents and ferns, and can be a beautiful and low-maintenance addition to a small space.
Herb gardens are a great way to grow plants in a small space and can provide a variety of health benefits. Herbs such as lavender, chamomile, and mint can be grown indoors and can be used for medicinal purposes, such as promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety.
Creating a nature journal
Keeping a nature journal is a great way to connect with nature and explore the natural world around us. This activity involves documenting observations, thoughts, and feelings about nature in a notebook or journal. Nature journaling can be a fun and rewarding activity for young adults, as it provides a creative outlet and can promote mindfulness and relaxation.
The potential benefits of keeping a nature journal are numerous. For one, it encourages individuals to be present and mindful in nature, which can reduce stress and promote relaxation. Additionally, nature journaling can help individuals to develop a greater appreciation for the natural world, as they document and reflect on the beauty and complexity of the environment around them. Nature journaling can also be a tool for personal growth, as individuals can use their observations and reflections to explore their own thoughts and feelings.
Here are some suggestions for how and when young adults can incorporate nature journaling into their lives:
Set aside time for journaling:
Choose a regular time each week to spend time in nature and work on your nature journal. This could be a weekly walk in a local park, a visit to a nearby nature reserve, or simply spending time in your own backyard.
Choose a comfortable and portable journal:
Invest in a small notebook or journal that is easy to carry with you, so you can document observations and reflections on the go. A waterproof or weather-resistant journal can be especially useful for outdoor adventures.
Document observations with sketches and notes:
Use sketches, notes, and photographs to document your observations of nature. You can also include reflections on the sights, sounds, and smells around you.
Use prompts to inspire your writing:
If you're not sure what to write about, try using prompts to inspire your nature journaling. For example, you could focus on a particular theme, such as the changing colors of the leaves in fall, or write about a particular animal or plant you have encountered.
Share your journal with others:
Consider sharing your nature journal with others, either online or in person. This can be a great way to connect with others who share your love of nature and can provide a supportive community for your creative endeavors.
Taking nature walks
Nature walks are a simple and accessible way to connect with nature and improve physical and mental health. Spending time in natural environments has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, and provide a variety of physical health benefits.
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Additionally, nature walks can be used as part of adventure therapy, a form of ecotherapy that involves engaging in outdoor activities to promote personal growth and emotional healing. By engaging in physical activity in a natural environment, individuals can gain a sense of accomplishment and empowerment, as well as engage in self-reflection and self-discovery, exploring their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a non-judgmental setting. The use of nature walks in adventure therapy can also help to build social connections and a sense of community. Group activities in natural environments can foster a sense of camaraderie and provide opportunities for meaningful social interactions.
Here are some tips for incorporating more outdoor activities into your weekly routine:
Choose activities that fit your lifestyle and preferences:
Outdoor activities can take many forms, from walking and hiking to gardening and bird watching. Choose activities that fit your lifestyle and preferences, so that you are more likely to stick with them.
Join a group or find a partner:
Outdoor activities can be more enjoyable and motivating when done with others. Consider joining a group or finding a partner to engage in outdoor activities with.
Make it a habit:
Make outdoor activities a regular habit by incorporating them into your daily routine. For example, you could walk or bike to work instead of driving, or take a short walk during your lunch break.
Incorporating nature into meditation or yoga practice
Incorporating nature into meditation or yoga can be a powerful way to deepen the connection with the natural world and promote relaxation and well-being. There are many different ways that people can incorporate nature into their meditation or yoga practice, including attending nature meditation classes, practicing yoga in natural settings, and participating in animal-assisted therapy.
Nature meditation classes are a popular way to connect with nature while practicing mindfulness and meditation. These classes may take place in natural settings such as parks or forests and may involve guided meditations focused on connecting with the natural environment. Participants may engage in activities such as walking meditations, forest bathing, or mindfulness exercises that incorporate natural elements such as trees or water.
Practicing yoga in natural settings can also be a powerful way to connect with nature while engaging in physical activity. Yoga classes may take place in parks or outdoor settings and may incorporate natural elements such as the sun, wind, or earth into the practice. Some yoga studios may also offer animal-assisted therapy sessions, in which participants engage in yoga or meditation while interacting with animals such as dogs or horses.
In addition to attending classes or workshops, individuals can also incorporate nature into their personal meditation or yoga practice. This may involve practicing outside in natural environments such as parks or forests, or simply bringing natural elements into the practice space, such as plants or stones.
Making nature crafts
Nature and creativity are often combined in treatment programs to help people struggling with mental health issues. By engaging in creative activities that incorporate natural materials and elements, individuals can connect with nature, express themselves creatively, and promote improved mental health, and well-being.
Nature-based art therapy is a popular approach that combines contact with nature and creativity to promote mental health. This type of therapy involves using natural materials such as rocks, leaves, and flowers to create art, such as sculptures or paintings. By using natural materials, individuals can connect with nature, promote mindfulness, and express their emotions in a creative way.
Other examples of nature-based crafts that can be done at home include:
Leaf printing is a fun and easy nature craft that can be done with children or adults of all ages. This activity involves collecting leaves from various plants and using them to create unique patterns on a piece of paper. Leaf printing is a great way to connect with nature, promote creativity, and produce beautiful works of art.
To create a leaf print, follow these simple steps:
- Collect a variety of leaves: Collect leaves from different plants, making sure to choose leaves of different sizes, shapes, and colors. You can also experiment with different types of plants, such as ferns, flowers, or herbs.
- Choose a surface to print on: Select a surface to print on, such as paper, fabric, or cardboard. Make sure the surface is clean and flat.
- Apply paint or ink to the leaves: Apply paint or ink to the surface of the leaves, using a brush or sponge. Make sure the entire surface of the leaf is covered in paint or ink.
- Press the leaves onto the surface: Carefully press the leaves onto the surface, making sure the entire leaf is in contact with the surface. Use a roller or other flat object to apply pressure to the leaf, transferring the paint or ink onto the surface.
- Lift the leaves off the surface: Carefully lift the leaves off the surface, making sure not to smudge the print. Allow the print to dry completely.
Leaf printing can be a fun and versatile activity that can be used to create a variety of different prints, including greeting cards, wall art, and bookmarks. By collecting leaves and using them to create unique patterns, individuals can connect with nature and express themselves creatively, while also promoting mental health and well-being.
A mandala is a circular pattern that is often used in meditation or spiritual practices. Creating a nature mandala can be a calming and meditative activity that promotes mindfulness and relaxation. By connecting with nature and arranging natural materials in a circular pattern, individuals can express themselves creatively while also experiencing the benefits of being in a natural environment.
To create a nature mandala, follow these steps:
- Gather natural materials: Collect a variety of natural materials such as rocks, leaves, flowers, and twigs. Choose materials that have different shapes, colors, and textures.
- Choose a location: Choose a location where you can create your mandala. This could be a patch of grass in your backyard, a sandy beach, or a forest floor.
- Create the center: Choose a central point for your mandala, and place a large rock or other natural objects in the center.
- Arrange the materials: Begin arranging the materials in a circular pattern around the center, working outward. Experiment with different colors and textures to create a visually appealing design.
- Complete the mandala: Continue working outward until your mandala is complete. You can add additional layers or elements to your design to make it more intricate.
Twig picture frames:
Twig picture frames are a simple and affordable DIY project that can be done with children or adults of all ages. By incorporating natural materials into your home decor, you can bring a touch of the outdoors into your living space. Additionally, this activity can promote creativity and relaxation, making it a great way to unwind and de-stress.
To create a twig picture frame, follow these steps:
- Collect twigs: Collect small twigs that are straight and similar in thickness. You can choose to collect twigs of similar colors or mix and match different shades.
- Choose a photo: Select a photo that you want to display in your frame. The photo should be slightly smaller than the size of the frame you want to create.
- Create the frame: Arrange the twigs in a square or rectangular shape, using glue or string to hold them together. You can experiment with different patterns and textures to create a unique design.
- Attach the photo: Use small clips or glue dots to attach the photo to the back of the frame. Make sure the photo is centered and secure.
Pinecone bird feeders:
Pinecone bird feeders are a great way to connect with nature and learn about local bird species. By hanging the bird feeder outside, you can observe the birds as they come to feed and learn about their behaviors and preferences.
To create a pinecone bird feeder, follow these simple steps:
- Collect pinecones: Collect pinecones from your yard or a nearby park. Choose pinecones that are open and have spaces between the scales where you can spread peanut butter or birdseed.
- Tie a string: Tie a piece of string or twine around the top of the pinecone. Make sure the string is long enough to hang the pinecone from a tree or other outdoor structure.
- Spread peanut butter or birdseed: Spread peanut butter or birdseed onto the surface of the pinecone, making sure to cover all of the spaces between the scales. If using peanut butter, you can roll the pinecone in birdseed to make sure it sticks.
- Hang the pinecone: Hang the pinecone outside in a visible location, such as a tree or a bird feeder pole. Watch as birds come to feed on the peanut butter or birdseed.
Precautions and considerations for nature-based therapy
As more research is conducted on the benefits of ecotherapy, more people are recognizing the value of connecting with nature for their mental health and well-being. However, it's important to remember that nature can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous if proper precautions are not taken.
By taking the following considerations into account, we can ensure that our nature therapy experiences are safe, enjoyable, and sustainable.
Safety concerns in nature
When engaging in nature-based therapy, safety concerns should be a top priority. The natural environment can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous, so it is important to take appropriate safety measures to ensure your physical well-being. Here are some common safety concerns in nature:
- Extreme weather conditions: Exposure to extreme weather conditions such as heat, cold, or severe storms can be dangerous. It is important to check weather forecasts and plan accordingly, wearing appropriate clothing and bringing necessary gear such as hats, sunscreen, and rain gear.
- Dangerous wildlife: Depending on the environment, dangerous wildlife such as snakes, spiders, or large mammals may be present. It is important to research the local wildlife and know how to avoid potential danger. If encountering wildlife, it is important to stay calm and give the animal space.
- Hazardous terrain: Natural environments such as forests, mountains, and rivers can have hazardous terrains such as steep cliffs, rocky terrain, and swift currents. It is important to stay aware of your surroundings and take appropriate precautions, such as wearing appropriate footwear, carrying a walking stick, and avoiding risky activities.
Accessibility concerns are an important consideration when engaging in nature-based therapy. Not everyone can access nature easily, and it is important to choose environments that are safe and accessible for all participants. This may include considerations such as mobility issues, sensory processing issues, or allergies.
For individuals with mobility issues, it is important to choose natural environments that are flat, paved, or have accessible trails. Some parks and natural areas may have designated accessible trails or boardwalks that are suitable for individuals with mobility issues. For individuals with sensory processing issues, it may be important to choose environments that are quieter and less stimulating. Some natural environments may have noise-reducing features, such as sound barriers or designated quiet areas.
Allergies can also be a concern when engaging in nature-based therapy. Some individuals may be allergic to certain types of plants or insects. It is important to research the local flora and fauna and take appropriate precautions, such as carrying an EpiPen or avoiding certain areas.
In addition to accessibility concerns, it is important to consider your own physical abilities and limitations when engaging in nature-based therapy. This may include physical or mental health conditions. It is important to choose activities that are appropriate for your individual needs and limitations and to modify activities as necessary to ensure your safety and comfort. This may include choosing activities that are less physically demanding or modifying activities to accommodate specific human and environmental health conditions.
Recommendations for seeking professional help
Engaging in nature-based therapy can be a powerful tool for promoting mental health and well-being, but it is important to engage in these activities under the supervision and guidance of a trained professional, especially if you are new to the practice. A trained professional can help you navigate the natural environment and ensure that you are engaging in activities safely and effectively. Here are some reasons why it is important to work with a trained professional when engaging in nature-based therapy:
- Safety: A trained professional can help you identify potential safety risks in the natural environment and take appropriate precautions to ensure your physical well-being. They can also help you modify activities to accommodate any physical or mental health conditions.
- Effectiveness: A trained professional can help you choose activities that are appropriate for your individual needs and goals, and can provide guidance and support as you engage in these activities. They can also help you track your progress and adjust your therapy plan as needed.
- Skill-building: A trained professional can help you develop new skills and competencies that can be applied in other areas of your life. For example, engaging in outdoor activities can help you build resilience, problem-solving skills, and self-esteem.
- Motivation: Working with a trained professional can help you stay motivated and engaged in your therapy process. They can provide support and encouragement as you work towards your goals, and can help you overcome any obstacles that may arise.
Recap: the healing power of the natural world
By spending time in nature and engaging in various activities such as gardening, hiking, and mindfulness practices, we can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, improve our mood and cognitive function, and enhance our physical health. To get started with nature therapy, you can try some simple DIY tips like spending time in a park or garden, practicing mindfulness in nature, or simply taking a walk in the woods.
If you're interested in learning more about other types of ecotherapy or finding resources to support your nature therapy journey, there are plenty of additional resources available. You can check out books, podcasts, and online resources that provide information and inspiration for incorporating nature into your life.
Remember, nature is always available to us, and it can be a powerful ally in our mental health journey. So why not take a step outside and explore all the benefits that nature therapy has to offer?
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About Remy Meraz
Remy Meraz is a visionary leader and dedicated entrepreneur with a passion for driving positive change. As a testament to her impact in the startup world, Remy was named a 2022 Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund recipient.
Read more about Zella Life's recognition here (https://www.zellalife.com/blog/zella-life-selected-for-google-for-startups-latino-founders-fund/) and discover how Remy's entrepreneurial spirit is transforming the future of work.
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