Major depressive disorder affects around 14.8 million adults in the US alone, in a given year. Depression can co-occur with other illnesses and medical conditions, including cancer, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

Those who suffer from depression often turn to medication, psychotherapy, and support groups for help. Natural remedies tend to be the last thing doctors prescribe when it comes to reducing symptoms of depression, but it turns out that they can be one of the most helpful treatments.

Read on to learn about some of the therapies that can reduce the symptoms of depression by up to 70% and that, although their effectiveness may be evident, many go unnoticed.

Treating symptoms of depression with ecotherapy

In 2007, a research team at the University of Essex in the UK conducted a study to determine the effects of nature on depression symptoms. The study found that even five minutes outside in a natural setting reduced depression symptoms in 7% of study participants.

Some doctors are now prescribing “natural recipes” telling their patients with symptoms of depression to spend more time outside. Doctors aren’t the only ones trying a more natural approach to conditions like depression and anxiety. Some universities are now beginning to offer study programs that teach students about the benefits of ecotherapy .

John F. Kennedy University offers a graduate-level certification program for ecotherapy. The course includes education on animal-assisted therapy, time management, and “eco-anxiety” management.

Why Ecotherapy Works

Some of the benefits of being in nature begin with the mind. Spending more time outdoors can affect the way your brain works. One study found that spending time in a natural environment reduces repetitive negative thoughts.

The study involved brain imaging to assess the participants’ feelings and emotions. When the participants were in a natural environment, the part of the brain that is associated with forms of mental illness – the subgenual prefrontal cortex – actually shuts down.

Researchers for this study noted that nearly 50% of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, and that number is continually increasing. Too many people don’t realize the importance of spending time in nature.

Studies have shown that living in a greener environment improves mental health and lowers levels of depression . Research has found that people born and raised in cities have higher rates of psychosis, anxiety disorders, and depression. In studies, city dwellers have shown increased activation in the amygdala – the brain region that regulates feelings like anxiety and fear.

Spending time in nature reduces depression

Most of us live very busy lives. It can be hard to find time to slow down and enjoy nature, but studies have shown how important it is in terms of mental health. Even if you live in the city, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors. Find a park or take a short drive and find a quiet place. Go for a bike ride or take your dog for a long walk. Spending time in a natural environment does not mean that you have to drive for hours to find such a place. It just means getting out there and enjoying some fresh air and sunshine.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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