Nature Therapy for the Workplace

Taking a deep breath of fresh air. Going for a walk in the park. Watering the flowers in our garden. What do all these things have in common? They all involve nature and they are all quite easily accomplished.  Many of us are not strangers to the fact that nature is good for us.  We go outside to exercise, walk our dog or to de-stress, without even appreciating the unique benefits of doing so in a natural setting.

The notion of the therapeutic use of nature, also known as “ecotherapy” seems to be gaining some popularity and acceptance.  An article in The Atlantic shed some light on what exactly ecotherapy is.

In his article, Hamblin describes some of the skepticism around using nature as therapy. There have been some studies that demonstrated a connection between exposure to nature and decreased symptoms of ADHD and depression, but as you can imagine studies involving nature are difficult to design and carry out. Despite the current lacking evidence to support the practice, some professionals (including medical doctors) are actually prescribing nature to their patients.

The article also introduces the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe the physical and emotional ailments we experience when we have a shortage of nature in our daily lives. Even if we live in a more rural town rather than in the city, we still spend most of our time at work indoors, sitting at a desk.

The main take away points about ecotherapy from the article are:

  • Be specific: doctors who prescribe time in nature must be as specific with their recommendations as they are when they prescribe specific antibiotics or other drugs.
  • Environment is everything: natural environments can foster positive emotions in us, in comparison to synthetic/built environments.
  • Give back: ecotherapy is more effective when we not only use and enjoy nature, but when we also put effort in to protect and maintain it over time.
  • Approach with caution: ecotherapy is still quite a new area of practice that is still developing. It cannot and should not replace traditional medical therapies.

Bearing those points in mind here are a few tips/ideas to infuse a little bit of nature into your work days:

  • Bring in a plant for your desk. Make sure no one is allergic to it and that it does not go against any workplace policy. Terrariums and small cacti are good examples that do not require much maintenance.
  • Open the blinds. Even if your view is of another building, at least this way you get some natural light.
  • Go for a walk. Even in a dense city like Toronto, there are many green areas sprinkled throughout the downtown core. Find your nearest parkette and take a walk there or enjoy your lunch on a bench outside (weather permitting).
  • Pre/Post-work dose. If you can't incorporate any nature into your routine during the day, save it for mornings, evenings or weekends. Remember to be specific about what you plan to do (i.e., "I will go on a an hour long hike with my kids" rather than, "I will get outside").

We would love to hear your thoughts on ecotherapy and how you incorporate nature into your daily lives. Let us know in the comments!

For more information on the benefits of being in nature, see our previous post on the topic.

References
Hamblin, J. (2015, October). The nature cure: Why some doctors are writing prescriptions for time outdoors. The Atlantic. retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/10/the-nature-cure/403210/ 

photocredit: http://cdn.thedailybeast.com/content/dailybeast/articles/2014/04/03/warning-natural-medicine-is-often-code-for-pseudoscience/jcr:content/image.img.2000.jpg/1396518333036.cached.jpg