Connect with nature and natural light
Daily exposure to nature, fresh air, and natural light is essential for optimal mental health. So much so that recognized forms of mental therapy have been developed around it: ecotherapy, grounding and light therapy.
Regardless of what we call these therapies, the main message is to get as much exposure to light and nature as you can, as it is important for balancing hormones and neurotransmitters, reducing stress, and making you feel happier.
Ecotherapy refers to a wide range of treatments intended to improve your mental and physical wellbeing through participating in activities in nature.
Ecotherapy activities take place in gardens, parks, farms and forests, and can be formal or informal, ranging from group activities run by trained professionals, or informal sessions either with others or on your own.
Benefits of ecotherapy for mental health
The UK mental health charity Mind found that 69% of over 12000 people who participated in an Ecominds programme, consisting of gardening, food growing, exercise, art and craft or environmental conservation work, experienced significant increases in their mental wellbeing. For many participants it also increased their resilience levels, making them more able to withstand difficult times and have a supportive community around them.Mind. (2013). Feel better outside, feel better inside: Ecotherapy for mental wellbeing, resilience and recovery. [online] London: Mind, p. 36. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/media/336359/Feel-better-outside-feel-better-inside-report.pdf [accessed 15 Nov. 2017].
- All the benefits of exercise
- Exercising in nature and natural light enhances our connection to nature and natural light, thereby obtaining two goals with one activity
- Fresh air and natural light can increase energy levels and improve circadian rhythms and sleep
- Being in nature reduces excess stress hormone levels and relaxes the nervous system, stimulates the dopamine reward system, and reduces inflammation, which are all helpful with overall hormonal and neurotransmitter balance
- Confidence building through trying new activities, learning new skills, and overcoming new challenges
- Satisfaction and confidence from contributing to positive change for oneself and for the environment
- Meet and make connections with new people
- Become aware of your wider connection with animals, plants, trees, and different landscapes
- Tuning into the sights, sounds, and smells of the natural world can make you feel that you are fully present in the moment
- Being in nature and around plants exposes us to phytoncides, chemicals released by plants and trees which have anti-microbial properties, and have been shown to be immune boosting as well as calming Li. Q., Kobayashi, M., Wakayama, Y., Inagaki, H., Katsumata, M., Hirata, Y., Hirata, K., Shimizu, T., Kawada, T., Park, B., Ohira, T., Kagawa, T. and Miyazaki, Y. (2009). Effect of phytoncide from trees on human natural killer cell function. [online] International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, 22 (4), pp. 951-9. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20074458 [accessed 18 Aug. 2017].
- The belief that we’re connected to something larger than ourselves can be healing, and being in nature can be one way of attaining this
If you can’t actually be in nature, evidence shows that bringing nature into your home through aromatherapy, plants, and pictures of nature (for instance on your screensaver) can have a positive effect on your mental and physical health. You can also meditate on internal images of nature.
Daniel, K. (2015). The Anxiety Summit – Real food for Anxiety: Butter, Broth and Beyond. [online] Every Woman Over 29 Blog. Available at: https://www.everywomanover29.com/blog/anxiety-summit-real-food-anxiety-broth/ [accessed 17 Aug. 2017]. Gittleman, L. (2015). The Anxiety Summit – The Parasite/Anxiety Connection. [online] Every Woman Over 29 Blog. Available at: https://www.everywomanover29.com/blog/anxiety-summit-parasite-anxiety/ [accessed 17 Aug. 2017]. Selhub, E. (2015). The Anxiety Summit – How to Heal Anxiety with Nature and the Body, not just the Mind. [online] Every Woman Over 29 Blog. Available at: https://www.everywomanover29.com/blog/anxiety-summit-heal-with-nature/ [accessed 17 Aug. 2017].
Also known as “earthing”, it means connecting to the earth’s electromagnetic field. Due to rubber soles on our shoes, concrete roads, etc. the way we live is often completely shielded from the beneficial effects of the world’s electromagnetic field. And yet, being in touch with this energy is important for health, as it regulates many physiological functions, including those which affect mental health.
Benefits of grounding
Grounding can help:
- Calm the nervous system
- Improve sleep
- Regulate circadian rhythms
- Improve hormonal balance
- Improve mood
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve blood flow and blood quality
- Improve heart rate variability
Chevalier, G., Melvin, G. and Barsotti, T. (2015). One-Hour Contact with the Earth’s Surface (Grounding) Improves Inflammation and Blood Flow—A Randomized, Double-Blind, Pilot Study. Health, 7, pp. 1022-59. Available at: http://www.groundology.co.uk/scientific-research [accessed 15 Nov. 2017]. Oschman, J. L., Chevalier, G. and Brown, R. (2015). The effects of grounding (earthing) on inflammation, the immune response, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. [online] Journal of Inflammation Research, 8, pp. 83-96. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4378297/pdf/jir-8-083.pdf [accessed 15 Nov. 2017]. Chevalier, G. (2015). The Effect of Grounding the Human Body on Mood. [online] Psychological Reports: Mental & Physical Health, 116 (2) pp. 534-42. Available at: http://www.groundology.co.uk/scientific-research [accessed 15 Nov. 2017]. Chevalier, G. and Sinatra, S. (2011). Emotional Stress, Heart Rate Variability, Grounding, and Improved Autonomic Tone: Clinical Applications. [online] Integrative Medicine, 10 (3). Available at: http://imjournal.com/pdfarticles/IMCJ10_3_p16_24chevalier.pdf [accessed 15 Nov. 2017]. Sokal, P. and Sokal, K. (2011). The neuromodulative role of earthing. [online] Medical Hypotheses, 77 (5), pp. 824-6. Available at: http://www.medical-hypotheses.com/article/S0306-9877(11)00364-1/pdf [accessed 15 Nov. 2017].
You can ground by walking barefoot on the grass, earth, or beach, by swimming in a body of water, by placing your hands on the ground, etc. Wet grass, wet earth or sand are even more powerful conductors for the earth’s electromagnetic energy.
Or you can purchase a grounding mat to sleep or sit on.
Our circadian rhythms govern the 24 hour mental, physical and behavioural changes we go through in response to light and darkness in our environment.
In winter, there are fewer hours of sunlight, which in some people can lead to depression.Holt, S. and MacDonald, I. (2011). Depression: Natural Remedies That Really Work. Auckland [N.Z.]: Wairau Press, pp. 164-70.
Benefits of light therapy
Light therapy uses natural and simulated natural light to improve mental health and mood. It is usually prescribed for those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Its benefits include:
- Stabilised menstrual cycles, due to greater hormonal balance
- Five days of early morning bright light exposure can increase testosterone secretion in healthy men by more than 60% Servan-Schreiber, D. (2005). Healing Without Freud or Prozac. London: Rodale, p. 117.
- Improved quality of sleep due to regulation of circadian rhythms
- Reduced carbohydrate cravings
- Enhanced response to antidepressants in people who are otherwise resistant to treatment
- Used in conjunction with antidepressants, can bring faster and more long lasting relief Lake, J. (2009). Integrative Mental Health Care. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., p 105.
- Light therapy can be effective for depression even if your depression doesn’t follow a seasonal pattern Holt, S. and MacDonald, I. (2011). Depression: Natural Remedies That Really Work. Auckland [N.Z.]: Wairau Press, p. 170.
- Researchers at the American National Institute of Mental Health have demonstrated that 30 minutes of daily exposure to a bright light device (10,000 lux, approx. 20 times the brightness of a regular bulb) can reverse the symptoms of seasonal depression within two weeks Servan-Schreiber, D. (2005). Healing Without Freud or Prozac. London: Rodale, p. 113..
How to use light therapy
To experience the benefits of light therapy, buy a SAD lamp. Sit under it for 30-60 minutes, every day, for several weeks:Holt, S. and MacDonald, I. (2011). Depression: Natural Remedies That Really Work. Auckland [N.Z.]: Wairau Press, p.169.
- Any positive response normally occurs by the end of the first week
- If you have been using your SAD lamp for three weeks, and seen no improvement, then light therapy is probably not going to be useful Holt, S. and MacDonald, I. (2011). Depression: Natural Remedies That Really Work. Auckland [N.Z.]: Wairau Press, p. 166.
- 20% of people experience side effects such as blurred vision, headaches, and feeling over-stimulated, or ‘wired’ Holt, S. and MacDonald, I. (2011). Depression: Natural Remedies That Really Work. Auckland [N.Z.]: Wairau Press, p. 169.
- Long term-compliance is fairly disappointing, partly because people dislike the daily time-investment Servan-Schreiber, D. (2005). Healing Without Freud or Prozac. London: Rodale, p. 113.