A trail through a sunlit Pacific Northwest forest.

Close your eyes and picture yourself sitting in the woods near a babbling brook, scaling a mountain or enjoying the warm sand under your feet during a beach sunset. Feel better already? Nature therapy operates on the principle that the natural world offers a sense of tranquility and self-reflection that encourages changed perspectives and behaviors. And the research is there to prove it.

Nature therapy goes by several names: nature-based therapy, green therapy, ecotherapy, outdoor or recreational therapy. It includes sub-therapies as well, including animal-assisted therapy, wilderness immersion and horticultural therapy. Although different branches of nature therapy are more or less methodical, they all center around the idea that a connection to nature is beneficial to overall well-being. Additionally, while many types of therapy focus on internal factors (like brain chemicals, thought processes, etc.), nature therapy joins a host of other methods that emphasize the impact of external factors on mental health.

It is easy to understand that harmony with our external environment can lead to inner harmony. The intent of ecotherapy is to increase exposure to the natural world to improve mental health and to treat an array of other conditions. Nature therapy is beneficial to both mental wellness and physical wellness, according to the journal Extreme Physiology and Medicine.

Nature therapy and physical wellness

Internal medicine specialist Dr. John La Puma feels that nature therapy will soon claim a spot among nutrition and fitness as a widely-adopted wellness practice. In his work Alternative and Complementary Therapies, he explains some of the positive health benefits of walking in nature. These include improved short-term memory and concentration, healthier cortisol levels, better cell health and improved heart rates and blood pressure. Moreover, La Puma lists five conditions proven to reduce symptoms with increased time spent outside: ADHD, anxiety, insomnia, hypertension and myopia.

Recent research out of Cornell University has also shown that even 10 minutes spent outside each day can reduce stress, boost mood and increase focus. This outdoor exposure also promotes healthy blood pressure and heart rate. The study advocates that clinicians consider prescribing outdoor time as a preventative or treatment option to reduce stress and anxiety. It shouldn’t take much convincing to see that nature can positively impact our bodily health, and any benefit to our bodies yields positive repercussions for our minds.

Nature therapy and mental wellness

Nature therapy is a holistic treatment that incorporates the surrounding environment and uses it to our advantage as we work to protect mental wellness. Often, participants in nature therapy feel an increased sense of balance as the natural world offers a perspective that easily escapes us in our busy, urban lifestyles.

One of the major benefits of nature therapy is the increased opportunity for contemplation. Whether this occurs in the form of outdoor meditation or unguided self-reflection, time spent outdoors naturally stimulates reflective thinking. Most therapeutic models employ self-reflection as a step in the treatment process. Cognitive processes take time and energy to change, and often require a strong focus. Reflection is an important tool in any therapy, and the great outdoors offer a serene setting to journal, ponder or converse about mental health.

Nature therapy and addiction recovery

Nature therapy complements most treatments. Time in nature boosts physical and mental health and has additional benefits that apply specifically to addiction recovery. The first is that ecotherapy can boost Vitamin D, a vitamin proven to amplify mood and one that comes with time spent in sunlight. Nature also offers an outlet for those who struggle to overcome addiction when faced with boredom. Cultivating outdoor hobbies may turn out to be an excellent replacement behavior for drug and alcohol usage. If you sought substances for the thrill, check out adventure therapy. If you opt toward drug usage to calm nerves, try nature-based mindfulness.

Outside time can facilitate better sleep, which is a gift during the tough time of withdrawal. Nature-based therapy also offers increased focus and refreshes our mental energy. 

Like mental energy, physical energy increases when we spend part of our day outside. According to La Puma, people who spend time outdoors report that the same activities are less stressful when performed outdoors.

Moreover, La Puma found that walking in nature decreases negative thinking. A renewed sense of positivity and vigor will make recovery from drugs and alcohol less painful, and offer a distraction from the cessation of substance use.

Putting nature therapy to work

The list of pros to nature therapy are as lengthy as they are impactful. You’ll want to take advantage of the reduced stress, enhanced mood and reflection time that come with an escape into the outdoors. Consider looking for a recovery center that incorporates nature therapy in your treatment and reap the benefits for yourself. Having a team of professionals to help you build healthy outdoor habits will change both the short and long-term trajectory of your life.

Nestled in the hills of Western Pennsylvania, Silvermist Recovery offers a perfect landscape to seek recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. The 30-acre campus is complete with picturesque woods, nature trails, a swimming pool, exercise facilities and outdoor recreation equipment. Find a sense of peace and belonging in quiet reflection and supportive community, all in a welcoming environment. Call  (724) 268-4858 to experience the life-changing power of nature therapy in your search for sobriety.