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Take a Dose of Nature: Preserving our Mental Health

Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues are invisible illnesses that are far too often overlooked. They have become even more prevalent throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, creating additional fears and uncertainties in one's daily life. A recent study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions among adults. Symptoms of depression have increased 31 percent, stress-related disorders are up 26 percent, and 13 percent have started using illicit drugs or have increased their usage. This occurred in populations with and without pre-existing conditions, reflecting a widespread need to promote mental health now more than ever. This begets an important question: what can we do to maintain and improve our emotional and psychological well-being? As simplistic as it sounds, nature is one of the most vital assets to our mental state.

Ecotherapy, also known as nature therapy or green therapy, is an umbrella term for nature-based approaches to healing. There are many studies that suggest that spending time in nature, as well as indirect exposure to nature, is incredibly beneficial for one's mental health. Researchers have collectively labeled nature as an "antidote for stress" because on an emotional level it can improve mood, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. It has also been shown to promote physical health by lowering blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, and enhance immune system function.


I like to embrace nature's therapeutic effects by going on walks, an activity that remains safe despite the pandemic with masks and social distancing. I find that a change in environment can be very refreshing, especially as remote schooling and work has become a necessity. I have also learned how important it is to spend time in the sunlight, as it initiates chemical processes that allow the body to produce vitamin D. Along with aiding the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, vitamin D helps regulate moods; low levels of vitamin D are actually linked to higher levels of depression and anxiety.


There are many other common ecotherapy activities that can be experienced individually:


1. Green exercise: any physical activity that takes place outdoors and in a natural environment

A study found that although the participants tended to walk faster outdoors compared to indoors, their perceived exertion ratings were lower. Outdoor activity also correlates with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement. Furthermore, scientists have reported that green exercise reduces adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol levels, which are all hormones that serve as stress markers.


2. Horticulture: the art and practice of garden cultivation and management (this can also be pursued through professional, horticultural therapy programs)

As compared to non-gardeners, a meta-analysis of gardening and health studies revealed that gardeners experienced reductions in depression and anxiety, increased life satisfaction, and a better quality of life. Psychologists refer to gardening as a healthy habit that can produce positive emotions like satisfaction, relaxation, joy, and a sense of accomplishment. Interestingly, data suggests that exposure to environmental microorganisms may confer mental health benefits in patients with stress-related psychiatric disorders such as PTSD and major depression.


3. Meditating in nature: using mindfulness to train attention and awareness and achieve a mentally clear, emotionally calm, and stable state

Meditating outdoors can activate our senses and make us more alert and wakeful. While indoor meditation is still great for your health and well-being, outdoor meditation is associated with greater feelings of regeneration and energy. Expert yogis also claim that it is easier to practice mindfulness when you are outdoors because nature inherently calls to one's contemplative sides.


You can still experience the positive effects of nature from inside your home. In fact, heart surgery patients in intensive care units were able to reduce their anxiety and need for pain medication by viewing pictures depicting trees and water. The addition of flowers and plants to a workspace can positively affect creativity, productivity, and flexible problem-solving.


Ultimately, as tumultuous as the last few months have been, I think that it is critical to prioritize our mental health and well-being as we trek forward through the new era of COVID-19 and the disruptions it has caused. The Crisis Text Line, a nonprofit providing free confidential crisis intervention via text message that operates in the US, Canada, and the UK, has seen a tremendous spike in the number of people reaching out for help recently. Beginning in March, they have seen between 47% to 116% more texts per day than on an average day before the pandemic, and the texts were laced with worries regarding historic layoffs and the virus itself. While many people have been able to restore a semblance of what their previous lives looked like, mental health concerns continue to present as an issue. Experts say that as many as 1 in 3 patients recovering from Covid-19 could experience neurological or psychological after-effects of their infections, as many healthcare workers believe that COVID-19 can have a lasting impact on the brain.


The Invizibles challenges you to take a dose of nature and try a form of ecotherapy. Share this with your friends and family, encouraging them to do the same. Perhaps you can socially distance while doing it together! Be sure to tag us @theinviziblesorg on Instagram when you do.

 

How can you get involved with The Invizibles?

You can share your story! I am starting a special series as part of the weekly blogs in which I interview others that have struggled with an invisible illness. If you are interested in sharing your experience, please email theinviziblesorg@gmail.com.


I am also holding a printed-collage fundraiser to raise money for invisible illness research, Custom-made collages can be printed and shipped to your doorstep, and 100% of the proceeds will go towards scientific research funding. Fill out this form and you will be contacted for confirmation: https://forms.gle/faEuEiuzZ2vL4XUS7.


There is an open forum on our website where you can ask questions and share your thoughts regarding invisible illnesses. Everyone is welcome to participate in discussions.

Subscribe to our email list at the bottom of this page so you never miss out on a blog post or exciting announcement. Stay tuned for an update about Disability Pride Month, taking place throughout July!

Follow our social media pages for updates! You can find us on Instagram @theinviziblesorg and on our Facebook page, The Invizibles Org.


Members can contact us on our website or via email with any questions, comments, or concerns. We hope to hear from you.


Comment down below what your favorite form of ecotherapy is, and let us know what else you want to see for The Invizibles!

Invisible illnesses present hidden challenges; let's uncover and solve them together.

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