We received a lot of positive feedback from our article on grounding— what could be more inspiring than reconnecting with the earth? Now I would like to take this concept one step further, and share a way to reconnect with our beautiful planet and at the same time, seriously reduce our stress levels.
When it comes to beating stress, the tree huggers of the 1960's were certainly on to something. Back then, young people were leaving the cities in droves, headed for Big Sur, Boulder or Vermont to 'get back to the land.' They were in search of a more authentic experience from life— one that they could not find in the concrete jungles of modern America. And find it they did. These early pioneers reinvented food as we know it. Gone were the TV dinners, processed and 'convenience' foods; in their place were home grown, organic vegetables and farm fresh eggs and dairy products. The country life was the good life.
Unfortunately we can't all afford to live in the country. But the good news is that we can duplicate a lot of the countryside's benefits right here in the city and the suburbs.
According to Mind, England and Wales's leading mental health charity, a study by the University of Essex compared the benefits of a 30-minute walk in a country park with a walk in an indoor shopping center on a group of 20 members of local Mind associations.
After the country walk, 71% reported decreased levels of depression and said they felt less tense while 90% reported increased self-esteem.
This was in contrast to only 45% who experienced a decrease in depression after the shopping center walk, after which 22% said they actually felt more depressed! And it had nothing to do with how much money they did or didn't have to spend in the shops.
Some 50% also felt more tense and 44% said their self-esteem had dropped after window-shopping at the center.
The university also conducted a second study, asking 108 people with various mental health problems about their experiences with ecotherapy, which Mind describes as "getting outdoors and getting active in a green environment as a way of boosting mental well-being."
An impressive 94% said that green activities had benefited their mental health and lifted depression, while 90% said the combination of nature and exercise had the greatest effect overall.
I have frequently advised my patients to get out into the fresh air whenever possible— a park, the beach or even just a leafy, tree-lined street can fill the bill. Breathing fresh air, especially when compared to stale indoor air such as found in a mall, has a very beneficial effect, as does the natural full spectrum light from the sun.
The concept of "ecotherapy" or "green" therapy as it is also known is being recommended as a viable treatment to be used either in addition, or as an alternative to conventional drug or psychological therapy for depression. But for our purposes here, I think we can safely say that ecotherapy is a safe, effective and very enjoyable method for reducing the deadly, aging effects of stress. A walk outside provides benefits that your treadmill cannot and if you have a loving dog to walk with you, you will get a double dose of stress reduction and well-being.