We need to unplug in order to recharge.
We’ve all been drained from staring at a screen or scrolling through social media. In these frustrating moments, it’s a good idea to ditch your phone and head for the door. When you step outside, you’ll notice the subtle translucence of the leaves on a tree. You’ll take in the pastel shades that paint the sky as the sun begins to set. A warm breeze gently will sweep by, reminding you to breathe.
Nature nourishes our mind and body. It heals and sustains our collective well-being. The further we drift away from it, the more disconnected we feel from ourselves and even from one another as humans. Living in a modern, technology-driven way has led us to search for ways to regain control—but we usually only find temporary fixes.
Nature-based therapy, also known as ecotherapy, is a simple concept that can be difficult to put into practice because of how much time our modern culture keeps us indoors and glued to a screen. Yet, more research and medical experts support the idea that time spent outside is a long-term remedy to a myriad of modern day illnesses.
Whether you live in an urban area or have green and blue spaces around you, there are infinite ways to weave nature-based therapy into your everyday life. Here, we’ve outlined some of the easiest and most impactful ways to live a more grounded and connected life.
Soothe Your Senses with Natural Sounds
What is your daily soundscape? Is it the roar of an airplane, honking horns, subway cars grating against the rails, or phones ringing? Chances are, if you hear these noises often and at a loud volume, your soundscape is triggering your stress response system.
In his book, Blue Mind, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols says, "Our sound processing systems, built for millions of years to be sensitive to the smallest noises in the environment, are overwhelmed, exhausted, and sick. People who live in places with continuously high levels of traffic noise have a greater risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and suppressed immune systems." He goes on to say prolonged exposure to loud noise causes the release of stress hormones, while pleasant sounds at comfortable levels—like that of water inherently pleasant to our ears—have been shown to improve mood and induce relaxation.
Try to become aware of the noises that make up your daily soundscape. Then, take a moment to notice how it makes you feel. When you can, immerse yourself in a nourishing and quiet soundscape full of natural sounds like that of birds, wind, and water, to help soothe your nervous system. Also, try to spend time in quiet outdoor spaces as often as you can. If you can’t regularly make it to those spaces, create your own soothing soundscape with a playlist of ocean sounds or use acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton’s famous recordings of the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park.
Establish Natural Sleep Cycles
Everyone has a circadian timing system that regulates sleep-wake cycles and naturally correlates with the rising and setting of the sun. In his book, Sleep Smarter, Shawn Stevenson explains that being in sync with that system, also known as a rhythm (or the circadian rhythm), allows you to tap into the natural restoration that occurs during sleep. It keeps cognitive and physiological functions dialed during the day.
Stevenson credits this to serotonin, a hormone your body naturally produces as a result of soaking up the sunlight during the day. “Serotonin is commonly known to bring about feelings of happiness and well-being,” Stevenson says. “It’s crucial to regulating your body’s internal clock [...] and [for transforming] into melatonin.” A direct and well-timed response to the day’s jolt of happy hormones is the sleep hormone, melatonin, which your body produces as the sun goes down.
Late-night Netflix binges, screen time, and unnatural light sources confuse our systems and effectively mess up our natural circadian rhythm. It leaves you feeling constantly groggy, moody, and stressed out because of sleep deprivation. To remedy this, try syncing your sleep cycles to the earth’s. Stevenson recommends going to bed by 10 pm for a restful night, and getting sun exposure (even on cloudy days!) early and frequently throughout the day to keep your body on track.
“Whether we understand it or not, we are heavily connected to nature,” says Stevenson. “We can hide out from it but our [human bodies] are always looking for ways to find [their] rhythm.”
Blue Spaces and Water as Therapy
It may not be surprising to find out that being on, in, or around water is good therapy. After all, our bodies are mostly made of water—it sustains us and all life on this planet. It seems intuitive that it would also be a healing and therapeutic force. A water-lover himself, Dr. Nichols shares the research on its benefits in his book, Blue Mind.
He explains that even neuroscientists understand how intrinsically connected we are to the water, and that something as simple as a walk on the beach or the sound of moving water signals to our body and minds that we are safe. It makes us happier. Nichols recommends finding ways to weave water into your everyday life. A bike ride to work along the river or a lunch break near a pond will boost happiness. Better yet, find a water activity you love, like kayaking, swimming, or even beach clean ups, that will encourage you to spend more time outside and by nature’s life source.
More ways to use Nature-Based Therapy in your everyday life
Volunteer Outdoors - There’s so much research that shows how good we feel when we spend time being altruistic and doing outdoor activities with others. Give back to the environment and yourself by doing a monthly beach or park clean up, or volunteer with an organization to help maintain your favorite hiking trails. Whatever it is, make it a habit.
Make Outdoor Time Meaningful - The art of shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest bathing,’ is well-known for its therapeutic effects. Find your favorite outdoor spot and visit it often, taking care to mindfully soak it up with all five senses. Leave your phone at home.
Have Fun Outside with Friends - Group activities can be a fun and social way to get some fresh air. Go on a group hike, picnic, or outdoor yoga class. Whatever it is, choosing to spend your time outside with others will help you continue to stay connected to the natural world.
Based in the beautiful city of Portland, Maine, Katherine Oakes Englishman is a writer and yoga teacher with a passion for empowering others to live a more conscious and connected life. She is a contributing writer for The Good Trade, Wayward Collective and pens articles on outdoor travel as the East Coast correspondent at Bearfoot Theory; Katherine is also the former web editor of Pure Green Magazine. Offline, you can find her on a yoga mat or in pursuit of adventure in the wilds of Maine and the neighboring White Mountains.