What is Ecotherapy? 17 outdoor activities to improve mental health

Before the pandemic hit, I recorded all my workouts within the confines of four walls. Cue lockdown in March 2020 and found myself clinging to any sense of sanity as I pushed my newborn around the neighborhood multiple times a day.

I will never forget the day I found myself mesmerized by the beauty of thousands of vibrant green leaves rustling in the wind – on a tree I had passed every day for years without a second glance.

As the gym has reopened (and the fog of new motherhood has lifted), I continue to make walking outside something I do on a daily basis. I realized how good I felt after going out and moving – and how much my mental health benefited from making it a habit.

According to Brittany Becker, licensed mental health counselor and director of The Dorm, a treatment community for young adults in New York and Washington, DC, I am not alone.

“Being forced to stay home caused an increase in anxiety, depression, loneliness, disordered eating habits, substance use and disruption of daily physical health routines. A common theme shared by our clients was that not changing their daily landscape invited unwanted feelings of exhaustion,” Becker told TODAY. “We saw the need to create routines that involved getting out of the house by safely in order to improve our mental health.During the pandemic, many people have felt a positive impact on their mental health and creativity when they get out more, which has ultimately helped them develop healthier daily rituals that will remain in people’s routines for the long term.

So what exactly is it about being outdoors that feels so good?

“Being in nature can lower our cortisol levels and destimulate our sympathetic nervous system, helping us to feel less threatened and less anxious,” said UK-based environmental psychologist and wellness consultant Lee Chambers. “Natural light elevates our serotonin levels and our mood and gives us a feeling of space and awe. Being outdoors is a full sensory experience, as the wind blows in our cheeks, the light shines in our eyes. , our feet touch the ground and the sounds of nature resonate in our ears. Connectivity also helps us feel that we are not going through this alone. Being surrounded by nature is therapeutic and has been shown to a positive impact on people with mild to moderate depression.

And as we emerge from the pandemic, which has given many of us the time and flexibility to get out, experts hope that turning to nature for entertainment and refuge will become a permanent change.

What is “eco-therapy”?

Even without a pandemic threatening us, using nature as a form of therapy is an effective tool to improve our mental and physical health.

“Eco-therapy is the idea that as human beings we are deeply connected to the world around us and have an affinity for the natural environments in which we evolved,” Chambers said. “(It) gives us the opportunity to explore our relationship with nature and connect with nature in a way that positively impacts our mental health.”