Researching Ecotherapy: Some Interesting Discoveries!

Darrien (my research partner) and I spent much of our time this summer compiling scientific research on different fields within ecotherapy. These include: animal-assisted therapy, benefits for children, economic benefits, exposure to greenspaces (including living near greenspaces), forest bathing, gardening, green exercise, indoor plants, indoor light therapy, viewing images of nature, window views of nature, nature views, nature walks, negative ion exposure, plant scents, sounds of nature, and wilderness therapy. I had not heard of several of these research topics before this summer, so it was interesting to learn how widespread the research in ecotherapy is, especially because it gets very little attention or acknowledgment.

Here are a few study results I came across and found interesting:

Smelling certain essential oils in a diffuser for 5 minutes (use 4 drops of oil) can have various benefits. Rosemary increases memory and attention, while decreasing fatigue. Peppermint increases alertness and memory while decreasing rage. Jasmine increases attention, cognition, and sleep quality. Lavender increases relaxation and calm but, interestingly, decreases productivity (probably due to its relaxing effect). Cypress increases attention and relaxation and decreases tension, anger, fatigue, and confusion. It is also beneficial for reducing the symptoms of depression. Cedar increases relaxation and calm. These various oils can be used as supplemental treatments for attention disorders, anxiety, fatigue, depression, sleep issues, and stress.

Light therapy helps regulate melatonin, which is disrupted by artificial light use at night. Disrupted melatonin can lead to depression, attention disorders, and insomnia. Getting 15 minutes of natural light per day (or using a sunlamp) can increase productivity and reduce anxiety, irritability, depression, and even post-surgery recovery time, which demonstrates the physical benefits of spending time outdoors.

Spending time in wilderness areas can have many benefits. Just 12 minutes can reduce heart rate and nervous activity, 20 minutes increases relaxation and reduces stress, 40 minutes improves mood, and 1+ hours increases immune system strength.

Interacting with a dog for 5 minutes decreases stress and increases oxytocin, positive thoughts, prosocial behavior, and empathy. Observing a fish tank for 20 minutes decreases blood pressure and stress.

Indoor plants (try Golden Pothos, Peace Lily, Lady Palm, and Marginata, among others) can decrease anxiety, depression, aggression, fatigue, and rate of cognitive decline. They also improve mood, productivity, and focus. Aim for plants to take up 10% of your living/office space for the best results.

Images of nature (such as wall posters) increase attention, focus, empathy, emotional stability, and vitality while decreasing depressive symptoms.

Exercising in greenspaces (such as the College Woods) compared to indoor spaces decreases blood pressure, depressive symptoms, stress, tension, and fatigue while increasing attention, focus and self-esteem.

These are just a few of the discoveries that we made while compiling research into a single document. We hope that mental health professionals can use this compilation of research to prescribe ecotherapy for patients.