The healing power of nature for the mind
One of the simplest cures for our everyday ills is time spent outdoors. Whether it’s walking a bush trail, jumping in the ocean, exploring a rainforest, camping under the stars or even just sitting in the garden – these activities all make us feel better in every sense – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
With the pandemic forcing us indoors and causing a kind of collective cabin fever, it’s no wonder that, according to the Black Dog Institute, three-quarters of the Australian population have said their mental health worsened as a result.
Now, more than ever before, we are craving the sun, the sky, the bush and open spaces as we seek ways to heal, to feel safe and to reconnect with our natural environment.
The history of nature as a healer
Using nature as a healer dates back thousands of years. You only have to look at the Aboriginals’ fundamental connection with Country to understand how important the natural environment is to our total wellbeing and balance.
There is now a growing body of scientific evidence about the positive health benefits of connecting with the natural world, particularly for mental health issues like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A great example of healing in nature is Japanese forest bathing which began in the 1980s in response to a national health crisis. A study showed walking in the forest decreased levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol while ongoing research has shown it may help reduce stress, improve attention, boost immunity and lift people’s mood.
Another study by the University of Michigan into the effective dose of an urban nature experience showed that just 20 minutes of contact with nature lowered stress hormone levels.
The psychology of the natural world
Some psychologists are now integrating nature experiences into their everyday practice as a therapeutic tool.
Nature-based transpersonal clinical psychologist Cherie Levy, from northern NSW, worked in adventure-based therapy for some years and now consults privately with clients. Common conditions she treats include depression, trauma, anxiety, relationship difficulties, grief, and of late, trauma from an event-related disaster.
Adventure therapy informs the way she works with clients, and with the increase in online-healthcare as a result of the pandemic, she often encourages her clients to find a private place in nature to do their sessions.
“I invite them to take their laptop out into nature somewhere as a way to balance the digital interface of our work,” Cherie explains.
“Nature reorients our perspective to something bigger than ourselves. I notice that being immersed in the natural world supports people to know that they exist within a context and that even in the midst of difficult emotions and processes, there are other things happening.
“For example, you might notice the sounds of birds and in that moment, they’re helping to reorient you back to that part of yourself that appreciates sound and beauty.
“Obviously this references mindfulness practices and using your five senses to bring yourself back to the present moment. We’re using the feeling of the grass on your feet, the sounds of the birds, the sensation of the sun on your skin to connect with how you feel in your sensory experience, a tool that’s particularly useful in moments of emotional intensity.”
In appropriate circumstances, sessions with Cherie may take place as a bushwalk or simply sitting by a river.
“By moving some of the dormant energy in the body with physical movement, we’re allowing emotional releases to flow more easily too. For some, it can be so much more supportive than sitting in a room,” she says.
Next time you’re out in nature, really think about connecting all your senses with what’s around you and notice how it makes you feel. Your path to a positive mindset might only be one bush walk away.
If you’d like to learn more about ways you can improve your mental health, consider booking a free discovery call with one of SoulAdvisor’s qualified practitioners by clicking on the link below.
*Transpersonal Psychology acknowledges the interface between the science of psychology with ancient wisdom traditions, thus bridging both evidence-based research with intuitive, creative, and consciousness-based approaches.