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Ecotherapy: The Effects During COVID-19 Isolation

Abstract:

Ecotherapy is the abstract term for a gathering of techniques and practices that lead to circles of mutual healing between the human mind and the natural world from which it evolved. It includes horticultural therapy, nature meditation, self care, and certain kinds of mutual-assisted therapy. This article provides an overview of the effects of ecotherapy on your brain and stress reduction during times of isolation, along with ways you can take part in it’s benefits.

Introduction: Across the globe, we are all united by one crisis: The 2020 pandemic. I don’t even want to mention its dreaded name. It negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new barriers for those already suffering from mental illnesses and depression. In a recent KFF Poll, nearly 45% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the virus. But did you know that taking a breather outdoors can significantly decrease that feeling, even if it is just outside your front porch? There are plenty of contradictory and uncertain findings in psychology but the benefits of nature are not among them. Health professionals agree that spending time in nature makes us happier, in a better mood, less stressed, physically healthier, and even slows down the aging of the brain.

Ecotherapy’s Effects on Regions of The Brain: Research in a growing scientific field called ​ecotherapy​ has shown a strong link between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression which is especially important in the times we face today. Ecotherapy, or nature therapy, comes from the idea that people are part of their environment. Eco-psychology says that our psyches are not isolated from the world around us — in fact, our emotional and mental states are hugely impacted by it. Now I'm not saying to go outdoors and not social distance during this crisis, but there are many safe, alternative ways to enjoy the benefits of the outdoors that can significantly improve your health. In a 2015 study, published in the ​Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,​ researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people after they walked for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one. They found that those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the ​prefrontal cortex​, a brain region that is active during rumination — defined as repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions.


"When people are depressed or under high levels of stress, this part of the brain malfunctions, and people experience a continuous loop of negative thoughts," says Dr. Jason Strauss, the director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard’s Cambridge Health Alliance. Dr. Strauss often prescribes nature to his patients struggling with stress, depression, and anxiety, and many of them report that they experienced better results than they did with prescribed medication.


Treatment Options: So how can you enjoy the benefit of this amazing, cost-friendly therapy for your troubles? Here are a few ways you can spend your time outdoors during the pandemic:

Involvement in conservation activities​: Take a short walk with a family member. This can allow you to bond with them at the same time, improving your sense of well being.

Read a book outside​. If you love reading novels or any type of newspaper in the morning, take that outside!

Horticultural therapy​: The use of plants and garden-related activities can be used to promote well-being. Activities may include digging soil, planting seedlings, watering plants, weeding garden beds, and trimming leaves.

Eat your meals outside​ and observe nature.No Technology Allowed!

Nature meditation:​ Go to isolated parks in your area if you live in a small city and take a walk. Let nature do its work!

Wilderness Excursion Work/Physical exercise in a natural environment​: Take a run if you want to get that workout done too. Just remember to keep six feet apart while out!

Ecotherapy Stimulation? And if you really can’t go outdoors whatsoever, I got you! Listening to nature sounds can have a similar effect, suggests a report published online by Scientific Reports. Researchers used an MRI scanner to measure brain activity in people as they listened to sounds recorded from natural or artificial environments.


Listening to natural sounds caused the listeners' brain connectivity to reflect an outward-directed focus of attention​, a process that occurs during wakeful rest periods like daydreaming. Listening to artificial sounds created an ​inward-directed focus​, which occurs during states of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. Even looking at pictures of nature settings, your favorite spot, or a place you want to visit can help! In one well-known study, for instance, psychologist Rachel Kaplan, a professor at the University Of Michigan found that office workers with a view of nature liked their jobs more, enjoyed better health, and even reported greater life satisfaction.

Nature doesn't just have an effect on the mind. Roger S. Ulrich, Ph.D., the director of the Center for Health Systems and Design at Texas A&M University, has found that nature can help the body heal, too. In his most well-known study, Ulrich investigated the effect that views from windows had on patients recovering from abdominal surgery. He discovered that patients whose hospital rooms overlooked trees had an easier time recovering than those whose rooms overlooked brick walls. Patients able to see nature and greenery got out of the hospital faster, had fewer complications, and required less pain medication than those forced to stare at a brick wall.

Conclusion: If you are in a stressful situation or going through hard times like many of us around the globe, going outdoors has scientifically proven to reduce those symptoms. Researchers had noted that people who had recently experienced stressful life events like a serious illness, death of a loved one, or unemployment had the greatest mental boost from a group nature outing. Horticultural therapy, wilderness excursion work, and enjoying yourself outdoors all positively impact mental health.So what are you waiting for? Get out there and take a breather! BY: Wafa Akbar


Sources: Harvard Medical Researchers: Sour Mood Getting You Down?Get Back To Nature https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/sour-mood-getting-you-down-get-back-to -natureJuly 2018

Josh Laskin: A Hike Can Make Your Entire Vacation More Relaxing,Studies Show https://www.afar.com/magazine/why-spending-time-in-nature-is-good-for-your-well-being January 7th, 2020

Nirmita Panchal,Rabah Kamal,Kendal Orgera,Cynthia Cox,Rachel Garfield, Liz Hamel, Cailey Munana, and Priya Chidambaram: The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-ment al-health-and-substance-use/April 21st, 2020

Good Therapy Writer: Ecotherapy/Nature Therapy https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/econature-therapyAugust 15th, 2018

Clay, R. A. : Green is good for you. Monitor on Psychology, 32(4). https://www.apa.org/monitor/apr01/greengood. 2001

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