Nature therapy can help ease troubled minds


The sun wakes you up as it rises over a peak of a mountain. As you stretch and unzip out of your sleeping bag, the subtle chill of the desert air bites at your skin. You then step out of your tent to brew some coffee over an open flame. As you watch the new day’s light dance across the desert floor below you, for some reason, everything seems to be alright.
In the 21st century we look at mental health much differently than we used to in past decades. At one time if you had any sort of issue you would be offered electroshock therapy or given medications until you became comatose. But now a new style of therapy has emerged to cure mental health issues, nature therapy.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, nature therapy is defined as “a system of treatment of disease that avoids drugs and surgery and emphasizes the use of natural agents (such as air, water and herbs).”
It officially became a tool used by therapists in 1996 and was then known as “ecotherapy.” It has shown to have been very helpful with improving mood, easing anxiety, destressing and especially coping with depressing thoughts.
In this modern age, we are consumed with the self. Social media sites like Instagram and Facebook have enslaved us by letting us believe that the reason for living is narcissism and the craving of acceptance by all the people we are surrounded by. I am at fault here as well. I get notifications when my favorite Instagram accounts make a post.
The news we see and read every day tends to be on the darker side like wars in the middle east and political strife in the U.S. With each day, it seems like the world is growing darker and darker.
In these times it is completely necessary to do as Henry David Thoreau did, and go to the woods to live deliberately.
There is something inexplicable in being surrounded by nature. It could be a desert valley, a mountain’s peak, a white sandy beach or even your local city park. Just a place where you can disconnect from the sludge of modernity.
When you get lost in the wild, everything that you left behind at home seems to float away. You realize how small you are. Not in the sense that you do not matter, but in the fact that there is a grand world that surrounds you. Go seize it.
Find the ends of the earth. Discover centuries old cave paintings in Utah. Stand up paddle with manatees in the crystal-clear waters of Florida.
Find that place on this earth that can make you feel truly alive. Some people believe they are backed into a corner where they live. This is ridiculous. The world is round. There are no corners to be backed in to if you keep exploring.
There is one downside to this exploration though. Once you find it, you will never want to leave. And when you do leave, your heart will always be in those wild places.
For me, it is Big Bend National Park. I’ll hear a song or smell something and instantly I’m transported back to the desert.
This is not a perfect cure-all, but a supplemental help for mental illness. There are very sad cases, like the one of Dan Sidles, where a person tries to help their mental state only with nature therapy, and ultimately it is not enough.
Each human is individual and unique so each human will need different types and amounts of therapy. If you struggle with any sort of mental illness, reach out to someone. Try as many different, healthy styles of therapy as you can. There is still hope.
The man who inspired my wanderlust, and in all honesty, was also using nature therapy without even knowing it, was named Christopher McCandless. He left his home after graduating college to walk across America and get lost in the wild.
His journey ended in Alaska after backpacking across the entire country. He said something that has always stuck with me.
According to McCandless, the very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.
This is the point of nature therapy and why I believe it can help with mental illnesses. Our very purpose for existence is to find happiness through the discovery of new and exciting things.
I urge you, get outside. Find a new horizon. Look for that natural place that makes this life worth living.