The concept of ‘green therapy’ might sound like some hippy mumbo jumbo but it’s not to be scoffed at. Despite the lack of scientific evidence that meets universal approval, the idea that engaging with nature could result in anything other than improvements to your mental health and wellbeing is not disputed. And that principally is all that green therapy is.
Engaging with the environment in some active way that connects us with nature.
So why is it only now that we’ve given this form of mental and physical enrichment a name? Is it because we need a prescription to provide an antidote to our ailments? Perhaps. We’re starting to understand that not all disease is best cured with a pill but we’re not quite ready to let go of the prescribed solution.
Many health services across the western world have responded to this newly embraced culture of ‘alternative’ therapies, but have had to do so in a manner that doesn’t alarm the average patient. As a species, whilst humans are fast to adopt new technologies but revisiting what are often considered age old remedies takes a little time to adopt. We like charts and graphs and ‘proof’.
However, what we are now seeing is family doctors, general practitioners and health care associates, prescribing a good old-fashioned walk to boost the serotonin in patients struggling with anxiety, gardening for complex symptoms relating to depression and even petting animals to help with learning challenges and attention disorders amongst many other activities.
But green therapy isn’t just for those with health problems – it’s preventative as well as curative so if you’re already in the mindset that green therapy might be for you, read on and we’ll offer you a few suggestions of ‘green therapies’ that might just float your boat – but first we’ll tackle just why we need it.
50 Shades of Grey
Life has definitely become a bit more grey. More roads, infrastructure and buildings and it doesn’t matter how many parks we make and how much land we protect from development, it’s still more grey in most of our living environments than it is green.
Those of us living in urban and suburban environments are somewhat detached from the natural world. Perhaps this is why we’re always so shocked when extreme weather hits us or a natural disaster occurs.
So let’s get back to nature – it’s good for mind, body and soul and it’s all around you.
Finding something that appeals to you is critical – there’s no point in forcing yourself to scale mountains if that’s your idea of torture – maybe a spot of gardening is more your thing?
6 Best Approaches to Green Therapy
Here we’re going to focus on 6 different approaches to green therapy and hopefully you’ll find something here that will appeal to you:
1. A Walk in the Park
Let’s start with the most obvious and accessible form of green therapy. For some this might be a daily wander around manicured lawns close to their home. Some others take it to extremes – the 2000 mile Appalachian Trail along the western coast of America is renowned for its therapeutic effect.
OUTCOME: endorphins, endorphins, endorphins. Those clever little brain juices that make you feel all warm and fuzzy.
2 Grow Something
The trick with this form of green therapy is to grow something you actually like. Do not grow courgettes if you don’t really like them and don’t try to nurture lilies if you’re allergic to pollen!
This is as much about commitment and process as anything and has been used by progressive teachers for decades to assist in the teaching of children with learning difficulties. You’d be surprised just how effect it is for anyone looking to disconnect from the mad world they live in.
Preparing, planting, nurturing and harvesting anything – be it a tomato or a cactus, a hazel nut or a rose – requires patience and this is something we are all encouraged to practice more in our ‘everything now’ worlds.
If you’re a complete novice and want to try your hand at cultivating a small indoor herb garden – perhaps try out a kit like this that gives you everything you need for under $20.
OUTCOME: smugness, patience, life skills, survival skills, healthy eating
3. Out of Your Comfort Zone
This involves taking yourself off to where you’re not entirely in control of your destiny.
Mother nature is in charge and you’re going to have to play along. Why not try white water rafting or kayaking? Being at the mercy of Neptune (we’d always recommend taking an experienced guide) – be that in the sea, on a river or lake, is an awakening. Not a strong swimmer? How about caving or rock climbing? All of these activities require the kind of focus that drowns out real life and that’s exactly why they’re so effective at restoring your calm. Participate in an activity like this regularly and you’ll also develop strength and stamina… all things that will benefit your general health.
OUTCOME: Increased fitness, new skills, increased serotonin, challenge yourself, personal growth
4. Animal Magic
You don’t need to get a pet to make this green therapy work, although if it’s something you’ve got the lifestyle for and have been thinking about, consider this your prompt!
We have a great many things to be thankful to animals for. Did you know that stroking a dog, cat or rabbit can actually lower your blood pressure?
Pets also have a dependency on us, their carers, to provide for them. You may not agree with this when Mrs Pickles, your prized tabby, presents a dead something-or-other on your pillow in the morning but she does need you for all sorts of things and that’s a healthy two way relationship. “You feed me, I’ll let you cuddle me anytime you want.”
If we’re talking canines, you’re going to get some of those park walks we discussed earlier and this is also a great way to meet people – a positive by-product of this kind of green therapy.
If you’re not in a position to take care of a pet, you don’t need to miss out on the life affirming benefits of contact with animals. Petting zoos, urban and rural farms and animal shelters are often desperate for volunteers to help take care of their animals and whilst that may come with the dis benefit of having to wield a shovel and get down and dirty, it’s all going to be worth it when you get to snuggle with a baby goat or walk an abandoned pup.
Perhaps a vacation with a purpose might be your thing? There are shelters and programmes all over the world where you can volunteer your services – just take a look at some of these great opportunities.
OUTCOME: reduced blood pressure, sense of responsibility, caring, love and affection
5. Hug a Tree
You’ve heard of Japanese forest bathing? Well in the early 1980’s the Japanese rebranding the humble walk in the woods and things really took off for hanging out with trees!
Amongst all the obvious reasons to take a walk in the wood, there are a few that you may not know of.
Did you know that trees emit oils as their natural defence against pests but we love these scents – pine, fir, oak – all have their own signatures and are an assault on our senses – ones usually subjected to pollution and chemical toxins. A walk amongst trees is like a spa day for your nose!
Enormity. For the most part, trees are bigger than us. They are part of nature that often outlives us as humans and they make us feel small. It’s actually quite good to feel unimportant, lacking impact and be insignificant – why? Because it trivialises whatever it is that’s bothering you. Your work load, your noisy neighbour, that’s disagreement you had with a friend over a bar bill.
OUTCOME: Reduced blood pressure; reduction in cortisol and other stress hormones; sense of perspective
6. Fix It
Going green – that doesn’t just mean eating more lentils and recycling your coffee cups. If that’s your contribution to environmental preservation then you need to seriously catch up and one way you can do that is to make-do-and-mend (MDAM).
A war time expression coined in England in the second world war, this approach consumed a generation, one that still darns socks and saves left-overs. Now’s your chance to get involved with the MDAM method, help save the planet and get yourself some green therapy as a bonus. Fix something. Find something that’s not working to its full potential or is simply broken and fix it. It’s not cheating to find a blog or consult YouTube – but restore something treasured to its former beauty or intended use and you will feel smug for a month. You never know, you might get hooked!
OUTCOME: increased wealth (not buying new things); learning new skills; improved concentration and research skills; and the mind calming pleasure you get from resourcefulness.
So you can see that green therapy comes in all sorts of guises – if none of these appeal to you, perhaps try a green juice fast, a weekend at a cooking school or a summer helping in a vineyard – it’s all green therapy.