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Exploring nature’s mental health benefits


Connecting with nature offers many benefits for wellbeing, something I see each day in my work as a mental health counselor offering nature walk and talk therapy. What I hear from clients about nature walk and talk is they feel more relaxed in nature than in an office setting, that they appreciate the chance to move their bodies, and taking in the beauty of a natural setting helps create a new perspective.

Research supports the idea that exposure to nature has wide-ranging wellness benefits, from decreasing anxiety and depression symptoms to decreasing blood pressure and stress hormones and soothing the nervous system.

As a practitioner of ecotherapy, I take the approach we can intentionally cultivate a relationship with nature, and in the process, learn about the place we live and get to know ourselves better. We can look for ways to practice reciprocity in our interactions with nature, meaning we not only receive nourishment from the natural world but look for ways to give back. The result is healthier humans and a healthier ecosystem.

With these concepts in mind, consider these five simple ways to deepen your connection with nature and support your wellbeing.

  1. Use your senses. Noticing what you take in through your senses helps with feeling more grounded. Breathe deeply and notice how it smells outdoors. Feel the sun or breeze on your skin. What do you hear? Is there a bird song you recognize? Practice becoming more mindful of what you notice.
  2. Tune into the seasons. The seasons of nature give us opportunities to reflect on the seasons we experience in our lives. Notice the phase of the natural environment – is it dormant? Coming to life? Blooming? Winding down? Stormy? Change is inevitable. When we flow with natural conditions rather than fighting changing seasons, it can help us conserve energy and adapt more gracefully.
  3. Develop a relationship with place. Find a “sit spot” and go back there at different times of day and in different seasons. Observe the changes that happen over the months, and years. Seeing the plant and animal life that comes and goes is a chance to learn about the local ecosystem.
  4. Be reciprocal: give back. Open yourself to considering what the land, plants, and animals might need. Approach with gratitude. Look for ways to offer something helpful to benefit nature such as picking up trash, becoming involved with local organizations that help care for the environment, or giving time or resources to a cause.
  5. Capture meaning. Express the meaning of what you experience in nature. You might journal your reflections or express yourself creatively through photography, other art forms, or writing. Sharing with others can also help reveal new layers of what an experience has meant.

Elizabeth Harvey Abrams is a licensed mental health counselor and practitioner of ecotherapy in New Mexico. Elizabeth offers nature walk and talk therapy in the Las Cruces area as well as virtual therapy throughout the state. Learn more at elizabethharveycounseling.com.

Elizabeth Harvey Abrams