Major depressive disorder affects around 14.8 million American adults in a given year. Depression can co-occur with other illnesses and medical conditions, including cancer, eating disorders and substance abuse. Those who suffer from depression often turn to medication, psychotherapy and support groups to get help. Natural remedies tend to be the last thing doctors prescribe when it comes to reducing depression symptoms, but it turns out it may be one of the most helpful treatments.
In 2007, a research team from the University of Essex in the United Kingdom conducted a study to determine the effects of nature on depression symptoms. The study found that even five minutes outside in a natural setting reduced symptoms of depression in 71% of the study participants.
Some health care providers are now writing “nature prescriptions” and telling people with depression symptoms to spend more time outside. Doctors aren’t the only ones trying a more natural approach to conditions like depression and anxiety. Some universities are now starting to offer study programs that teach students about the benefits of ecotherapy.
John F. Kennedy University offers a graduate-level certification program for ecotherapy. The course includes education about animal-assisted therapy, time management, and managing “eco-anxiety.”
Here’s Why It Works
Some of the benefits of being in nature begin with your mind. Spending more time outdoors can affect the way your brain works. One study found that spending time in a natural setting reduced repetitive negative thoughts. The study involved brain imaging to assess the feelings and emotions of the participants. When the participants were in a natural setting, the part of the brain that is associated with forms of mental illness – the subgenual prefrontal cortex – actually shuts down.
Researchers in this study pointed out that almost 50% of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, and that number is continually increasing. Too many people don’t realize the importance of spending time in nature. Studies have shown that living in a greener environment improves mental health and lowers depression levels. Research has found that people who are born and raised in cities have higher rates of psychosis, anxiety disorders and depression. In studies, city dwellers have shown higher activation in the amygdalda -the brain region that regulated feelings such as anxiety and fear.
Spending Time In Nature
Most of us live very busy lives. It can be hard to find time to slow down and enjoy nature, but studies have proven how important it is in terms of mental health.
Even if you live in the city, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors. Find a park or take a short drive to find a quiet place. Go for a bike ride or take your dog on a long walk. Spending time in a natural setting doesn’t mean you have to drive for hours to find a hiking trail. It simply means getting outside and enjoying a little fresh air and sunshine.