Counseling

3 Reasons to Dig into Nature Therapy as a Mother

ecotherapy evidence-based maternal mental health nature therapy perinatal mental health Aug 23, 2021

 

INTRODUCTION

Where do you go to find peace or to relax? Where are you when you feel the most alive? The most vital? 

 

More often than not, when faced with these questions, our answer is a place in nature. The natural world draws us in. We often feel our best when surrounded by the many lives within our living biome because we are also nature. 

 

Nature is intelligent, a self-supporting system that harmonizes itself and strives for balance. It is also in our DNA to move towards greater wellness, especially when we're supported by spending time in our natural evolutionary environment.

 

Although a lot has rapidly changed through industrialization, with modernity affecting every aspect of our lives, we are nature embodied has not. Our minds, bodies, and spirits all respond positively to being in a natural environment. 

 

Here are three reasons you may want to dig into nature therapy as a support for your mental health and wellness as a mother: 

 

It works for a variety of issues.

 

Research supports that nature connection is healing across many different modern health challenges from anxiety and depression to attention deficit disorder (Frumkin, Bratman, Breslow, Cochran, Kahn, Lawler, Levin, Tandon, Varanasi, Wolf, & Wood, 2017), even to the level of decreasing painkillers needed for relief after giving birth. Across all these measures of mental health and wellbeing, nature connection is compelling. Nature is good for us.

 

Nature therapy also works on multiple issues at once. The effects seem to last for an extended amount of time. Forest bathing, or spending time wandering in a wooded area, even in a "dose" as low as 30 minutes, has been shown to have a lasting effect for as long as 30 days (Song, Ikei, & Miyazaki, 2016). The body of research providing the "hows" and "whys" of therapeutic nature connection is rapidly expanding, so your family can likely be supported on several issues through contact with the great outdoors.   

 

You don't have to go it alone. 

 

Our culture celebrates the individual to an extreme. As such, nurturing ourselves has become a thing one must do alone. We even label it "self-care." But what if we can mother ourselves while we are mothering others? What if, instead of disconnecting to nurture ourselves, the act of connecting and relating to our natural ecosystems might be the healing we need?

 

Being in nature surrounded by your human and more-than-human family is taking care of yourself. For all the reasons science is explaining -- the phytoncides released into the air by the trees that decrease your anxiety and boosts your immunity (Nakadai, Matsushima, Miyazaki, Y., Krensky, Kawada, & Morimoto, 2006), the multi-dimensional environment that repairs your dulled senses and regulates your nervous system (Ewert & Chang, 2018), the light that restores your circadian rhythm and boosts your depression-fighting vitamin D (Penckofer, Kouba, Byrn, Estwing Ferrans, 2010) — reconnecting with nature can support your mental health and wellbeing. 

 

It's low cost or even free.

 

Many mothers have lost and left their jobs because of the economic downturns of the pandemic and the effects of disproportionate parenting responsibilities during the pandemic on their careers (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021). Financial stress has a real impact on our mental health, and spending money we don't have on mental health support can undermine the progress we want to make.

 

The therapeutic healing nature provides a free (usually, although we pay to support and protect green spaces with taxes) ecosystem service available to us regularly. While there are also low-cost traditional therapeutic supports for mothers, like the fantastic support groups offered by Postpartum Support International, the benefits of nature can be viewed as adjunctive therapy or even therapy in its own right. 

 

CONCLUSION

We spend about 93% of our lives in our homes, workplaces, and cars (Nelson, Klepeis, Robinson, Ott, Tsang, Switzer, Behar, Hern, Engelmann, & Environmental Protection Agency, 2001). We are incredibly disconnected as a species from the natural world in which we evolved. That's the bad news. The good news is that reconnecting with the living natural world can have immediate and profound effects on our health and wellbeing because we're so disconnected right now. 

 

Nature therapy means: contact with nature for therapeutic purposes to support psychologically healthy and ecologically sustainable lives. The treatment can look like many different things, from gardening to hiking to sitting outside on the porch watching a sunset, to my favorite pastime of creating art from natural materials. 

 

Nature therapy is effective, with minor adverse consequences, as long as you prepare for being outdoors safely. So let this be the motivation you need to spend more time outdoors. 

 

And if you need support on "how," please check out our course Nature Therapy for Mothers to explore evidence-based ideas to incorporate nature therapy into your life. 

 

 

CITATIONS

Ewert, A., & Chang, Y. (2018). Levels of Nature and Stress Response. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland)8(5), 49. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs8050049 

 

Frumkin, H., Bratman, G. N., Breslow, S. J., Cochran, B., Kahn, P. H., Jr, Lawler, J. J., Levin, P. S., Tandon, P. S., Varanasi, U., Wolf, K. L., & Wood, S. A. (2017). Nature Contact and Human Health: A Research Agenda. Environmental health perspectives, 125(7), 075001.  https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP1663

 

Li, Q., Nakadai, A., Matsushima, H., Miyazaki, Y., Krensky, A. M., Kawada, T., & Morimoto, K. (2006). Phytoncides (wood essential oils) induce human natural killer cell activity. Immunopharmacology and immunotoxicology28(2), 319–333. https://doi.org/ 10.1080/08923970600809439

 

Nelson, W. C., Klepeis, N. E., Robinson, J. P., Ott, W. R., Tsang, A. M., Switzer, P. Behar, J. Hern, S. C., & Engelmann, W. H., Environmental Protection Agency (2001). The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): A resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants. Berkeley, Calif: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

 

Penckofer S, Kouba J, Byrn M, Estwing Ferrans C. (2010). Vitamin D and depression: Where is all the sunshine?. Issues in Mental Health Nursing. 2010;31(6):385-393. doi:10.3109/01612840903437657

 

Song, C., Ikei, H., & Miyazaki, Y. (2016). Physiological Effects of Nature Therapy: A Review of the Research in Japan. International journal of environmental research and public health, 13(8), 781. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph13080781

 

U.S. Census Bureau. (2021, March 10). Moms, Work, and the Pandemic. The United States Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/03/moms-work-and-the-pandemic.html

 

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