earth-day-ecotherapy
Photo: Unsplash/ Anastasiia Tarasova
Lifestyle

How to Integrate Ecotherapy into Your Life to Improve Your Mental Health

When it comes to honoring Earth Day we’re often told about all the ways to help the Earth and while that’s undoubtedly important, it’s also vital to remember our own connection with nature. Dr. Veroshk Williams is a Puerto Rican psychologist and astrologist and a proponent of ecotherapy as a way to manage ecological grief. Now that we’re going on more than a year of being in the midst of a pandemic and lockdown we’ve most likely grieved not being able to enjoy nature and the outdoors like before. Ecological grief can mean missing a particular spot in nature you enjoyed that’s no longer there or simply feeling a disconnect from being outside. Even though we’re slowly opening up again, we’re still in some form of quarantine which means many might still experience ecological grief so Dr. Veroshk breaks down some of the ways to combat this. Benefits of ecotherapy include improved mental wellbeing, improved energy, enhanced creativity and spirituality, and a feeling of being connected to a higher purpose.

Incorporate mindful outdoor walks

Depending on where you live greenery might not be as accessible but if possible go out on a walk and choose the greenest path possible. Dr. Veroshk recommends actively listening to the sounds of nature versus pulling out your earphones to listen to something else. Walking and spending time in forests, (shinrin-yoku aka forest bathing) is a form of preventive health care that’s popular in Japan. Yoshifumi Miyazaki from Chiba University, Japan, discovered that going for a 40-minute walk in a cedar forest lowers the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, as well as blood pressure and supports the immune system more than a similar 40-minute walk indoors in a lab. A cedar forest isn’t exactly within walking distance for most of us but the point is clear – walks IN nature are beneficial to your health.

Spend time with a Pet

Dogs are known as man’s best friend for a reason and whether it’s a dog, cat, fish, rabbit, or any other domesticated creature there’s proof that time with a pet is good for you. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that studies have found that people bonding with pets can lower stress, increase opportunities for socialization and fitness, and decrease blood pressure. If you don’t have a pet, visit with a friend or family member who does if possible. Volunteering with a local rescue or animal shelter is also a great option.

Bring yourself to the wilderness

During this past year, we’ve come to appreciate how technology can help us stay connected like never before but we still need breaks from technology. Go camping or glamping if you’re not into anything to rustic – either way, disconnect from social media and reconnect with nature. Dr. Veroshk says, “Choosing to go camping or experiencing wilderness connects you with life’s simplicity and can automatically lower anxiety or high-intensity emotions. Being in contact with the elements helps you to reset, recharge, and reconnect.”

Create a garden or bring more plants into your spaces

This is for all the plantita mamis and papis and those who are even just thinking about it! Quarantine forced us to stay indoors and many of us took the opportunity to beautify our home and that included adding a plant… or four. While house plants can help detoxify the air and help you destress, gardening can provide you with nourishment and is also a grounding experience. “It brings better quality oxygen into your lungs, and by being greener you get more connected with yourself and feelings of happiness and tranquility,” Dr. Veroshk says.

Be more sustainable

In Latino culture, we’re exposed to the concept of reusing and recycling before we even knew those terms thanks to seeing the butter container used as Tupperware and dutch cookie tins as sewing kits. Incorporating sustainable practices into everyday lifelike reducing plastic use, being mindful of water usage, and composting can help both you and the planet. Dr. Veroshk suggests integrating one new habit per year and that can be as small as using a reusable water bottle or a more major change like driving an electric or hybrid car. “This will help you feel connected to a bigger cause and purpose which becomes motivation and it helps you connect with the feeling of having a life purpose,” she says.