Ecotherapy & Mental Health

As I sit writing this particular section, I’m surrounded by 4 concrete walls, in an artificially lit room, the sound of cars zooming past on the road nearby. If I step outside, I’m greeted with a concreate carpark, To my left, a big concrete apartment block, to my right the City of Preston. There is a few trees and a patch of Grass but I wouldn’t say enough to connect me to nature. When I’m done here, I’ll hop into my car and drive home watch some Netflix and go to sleep.

The modern way we live has changed radically from life in the savanna, but our brains have mostly stayed the same. We still have a deep connection with nature (340.) As I sit here listening to the cars, I’m trying to think when the last time I went for a walk in nature, It was probably 4 months ago, And that 4 months is probably still closer than most have spent in nature. By 2050 its estimated the 70% of people will live in urban areas (343.), Urbanization has been shown to have an effect on an increase in mental illness, including anxiety disorders and depression (344-346)

Just What The Doctor (Didn’t) Order – A Therapy older than the human race.

Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression (341.) This kind of therapy is older than us and is shown to be just as effective against depression as traditional psychotherapy or medication (342.)

‘A 2007 study from the University of Essex in the U.K., for example, found that a walk in the country reduces depression in 71% of participants. The researchers found that as little as five minutes in a natural setting, whether walking in a park or gardening in the backyard, improves mood, self-esteem, and motivation.’ (347) ‘Another survey by the same research team found that 94% of people with mental illnesses believed that contact with nature put them in a more positive mood. (342.)

Nature vs Urban Areas

Rumnifaction – repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions (341.) Rumnifaction generally happens when people are under a lot of stress or depressed. When in these states the prefrontal cortex (area of the brain) is highly active. 

A walk in nature showed that the activity in the prefrontal cortex was lower than those who walked in an urban setting and the participants self-reported less rumination after walking in nature for 90 minutes, Those who walked in Urban area for 90 minutes showed no improvements (343.)

A study with Four hundred and ninety-eight healthy volunteers to find out if walking in a forest had any health effects, The study found that Hostility and Depression scores were significantly decreased and Livlenss had increased significantly (348.)

What counts as a restorative environment

People exposed to urban environments are forced to use their attention to overcome the effects of constant stimulation and this in turn over time induces cognitive fatigue. In contrast, natural environments benefit from automatically capturing attention while simultaneously eliciting feelings of pleasure. (349)

Natural environments are shown to reduce the demand on executive-based attention, thereby allowing greater restoration of depleted attentional resources in comparison to the perception of urban environments (349.)

Restorative environments give you the feeling of ‘being away’ that is from the daily stressors of life. And time spent in natural environments helps improve performance on tasks that demand a lot of attention (350-351.) 

Interestingly attention restoration effects are also observed after participants simply watch films or photographs that depict natural scene content (349, 352 -353.) The effects of being exposed to nature like attentional capacity, positive emotions, ability to reflect in a life problem etc are more dramatic for actual nature rather than virtual nature (355.)

Restorative environments that make you feel being away don’t necessary have to be natural. Man-made structures such as monasteries can also be considered restorative environments (349.) Although if you stumble across the Cathedral of Barcelona for example as breathtaking as that is you are still surrounded by things that force your attention rather than just capture it Wheather that has the same attention restorative effects I don’t know. In both natural and Urban settings areas with water, features elicit positive responses (354.)

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