When you’re feeling anxious or depressed, where do you go to get away from it all? Do you long for busy city streets, concrete walls and bright lights, or do you retreat to a calmer and more natural setting? Whether it’s a cozy room with a good view or a remote cabin in the woods, most people prefer the tranquility of nature during times of stress.
While urban landscapes do have their own beauty, found in architecture, cityscapes and picturesque neighborhoods, humans have always had a special bond with the natural world. And throughout the years, science has proven what most of us intuitively know or feel — that nature is good for us, and spending time outdoors can be therapeutic.
Nature has this effect because we are a part of it. We feel this connection when a breathtaking view leaves us in awe, or we stand with wonder beneath a great redwood. But what is it that sets natural scenes apart from others? The answer might surprise you and help you better understand the perks of incorporating nature or outdoor therapy into your recovery, whether you’re struggling with mental health or addiction issues.
The Restorative Effects of Nature
Research shows that green spaces are beneficial for several reasons. They restore our mental, physical, and emotional health while helping us feel more connected to ourselves and others. That’s because natural settings have unique features not found in urban or man-made environments. The city constantly demands our attention as we commute to work, interact with strangers and check our email or social media, but these stressors are absent in the natural world. Instead of depleting us, lakes, rivers and forests replenish our mental energy without asking for anything in return.
While it might sound magical or even unscientific, this idea is at the heart of attention restoration theory (ART), which posits that being in nature isn’t just enjoyable; it can actually improve our focus and well-being. According to ART, urban settings are draining because they pull us in several different directions at once, forcing our attention here or there with little reprieve. But natural environments have the capacity to give back what this takes from us, providing a space where you can think as much or as little as you want to. In nature, you’ll find opportunities for self-reflection and introspection that can ‘reset’ the mind and body and help you make sense of any problems or difficulties you’re dealing with.
What’s interesting is that simply being outdoors can deliver these benefits. It doesn’t seem to matter if you go for a walk through the woods, swim in the ocean or just sit beneath a tree. As long as you’re comfortable and at ease, immersing yourself in a natural environment can improve your mood and boost your resilience to stress. It can also encourage a deeper sense of self-awareness, making the outdoors an ideal space for promoting recovery from addiction or mental illness. As more providers recognize these benefits, nature therapy is increasingly used in rehab programs to support individuals as they build a healthier lifestyle.
Nature Therapy in Recovery
Healers around the world have long since recognized the power of natural therapies. The Greeks looked to water for its therapeutic effects, while the celebrated Swiss doctor and philosopher Paracelsus wrote in the 16th century, “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician.” Even today, the Japanese continue the ancient practice of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) — a meditative, immersive experience that helps people unwind and unplug from the modern world.
Far from being a fringe or novel concept, experts have found that natural therapies are extremely valuable in a therapeutic setting. Patients who participate in natural therapy tend to have lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system and less stress than those who don’t. But they aren’t just healthier and happier; the fundamental building blocks of their mental, physical and emotional well-being respond positively to being outdoors, providing a strong foundation upon which to build when integrating more conventional treatments.
When it comes to addiction and mental health, this foundation can mean the difference between recovery and relapse. Men in rehab often find it harder to open up or connect with their inner selves, but nature provides an open, freeing and neutral environment that makes it easier to process your emotions. Natural therapies can also significantly reduce negative thoughts or behaviors, promoting a healthier mental state that meaningfully impacts our sense of self. By helping us look inward without judgment or shame, nature can help break past the barriers or obstacles that impede healing during the recovery process.
In today’s climate of social distancing and mask mandates, natural therapies also provide an effective, low-cost solution to in-person treatment that lets individuals connect with their therapists while safeguarding their health. More people are also opting for nature therapy as an alternative to remote and virtual care, which have become increasingly common during lockdown. While these options have made mental health care more accessible in the midst of a pandemic, they just don’t feel the same for many patients or providers. Moving therapy sessions outdoors provides a more personal and dynamic experience that lets us reset and replenish our minds in a positive, natural environment.
Some people use drugs or alcohol to cope with the demands of modern life. Research shows that spending time outdoors can alleviate some of this stress and help you decompress in a healthier way. That’s why at Choice House, we incorporate outdoor and adventure therapies into our recovery curriculum. By giving men the chance to experience the healing power of nature, they’re able to look within and address the root of their mental health or substance abuse problems while forming deeper and more meaningful connections with themselves, their peers and the natural world. To learn more about our treatment programs and how they help men achieve lasting recovery, reach out by calling us today at 303-578-4981.