Most people enjoy getting outside and enjoying the beauty of nature. Aside from being abundantly beautiful, did you also know that it’s good for your health? Nature has intrinsic properties that help restore balance to our souls and peace in our moods. Whether you’re getting outside for a hike, paddling across a lake, or simply admiring a beautiful flower in your yard, you are not just feasting your eyes: you are healing your body and your mind.
This process is a form of horticulture therapy, which encourages healing from all types of maladies, addiction being one of them.
Saying “nature heals” isn’t some new-age quackery; it’s legitimately backed by science. Being out in nature has been proven to heal the body and mind in many ways, from relieving depression and anxiety symptoms to lowering blood pressure. Spending roughly half an hour per day outdoors, away from screens and other technological distractions, is enough to improve your health a little bit each day. You can notice an increase in your health and overall mood just by making time outdoors a regular part of your day (just don’t forget to put on sunscreen).
There is also much to be said about exposure to natural light as opposed to synthetic light. These days, most of us get light exposure from artificial means, such as light bulbs and phone or computer screens. These forms of light can be useful but pale in comparison to the benefits of natural sunlight. No form of electricity can replicate the vitamin D that sunlight contains. Exposure to natural light elevates mood, boosts creativity, helps relieve anxiety, and reduces the side effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during the long winter months when days are shortest.
For people affected by substance abuse and depression, serotonin levels in the brain need to increase in order to feel happier. Serotonin is a chemical that regulates mood, and clinical depression happens when your brain doesn’t make enough of it. While prescription antidepressants can help (“store-bought serotonin”), being out in nature is a natural way to enjoy this benefit. Natural beauty increases blood flow in the brain’s amygdala, which is where fear and anxiety are manufactured. Natural scenes, such as mountains, trees, ocean fronts, or flowers, activate the pleasure and empathy centers of the brain. Walking through these scenes, as you are able, decreases activity in the part of the brain that is linked to depressed rumination.
In other words, plants and nature activate the parts of the brain that make you happy. Do you need a better reason to get outdoors?
Horticulture therapy has been used for centuries to treat all kinds of maladies, both physical and mental. It depends on the use of plants, as well as plant-based activities, for healing and rehabilitation. As an official therapeutic practice, Dr. Benjamin Rush is credited with its founding in the early 19th century. As a psychiatrist, Rush noticed how his patients seemed to improve in mental health as they worked with plants, which led him to prescribe them as part of treatment for mental illness.
Horticulture therapy is a highly accessible form of treatment, regardless of gardening experience. Anyone with a variety of physical, mental, social, and other disabilities can find plants to be non-discriminating and welcoming when working in a stable, calm environment. Plants also don’t care about cultural or ethnic differences related to race, religion, sex, or creed, which helps lend to horticulture therapy’s high success rate. When recovering from substance abuse or other traumatic experiences, working with plants can help re-develop core skills for adjusting to the world once again.
Horticulture therapy is hardly monolithic. It largely depends on the facility and the clients in terms of what it looks like in practice. Fortunately, it is highly adaptable to different treatment centers and therapeutic needs, including but not limited to substance abuse treatment, nursing homes, and even prisons.
There are at least three different types of horticulture therapy that are most commonly used: vocational, therapeutic, and social.
Intended to teach skills and behavioral practices for jobs and workplaces, vocational horticulture therapy is useful for people pursuing careers in greenhouses, gardening, landscaping, and plant sales and services. Skills learned in this department include repotting, water usage, and moving plants from one space to another. It relies heavily on basic plant root systems and the environments they need to thrive. While mostly career-based, people also learn how to support themselves mentally as well as financially.
While all forms of horticulture therapy are beneficial for mental and physical wellness to some degree, therapeutic therapy is explicitly for that purpose. Activities may include repetitive actions such as digging or watering in order to improve motor skills and other physical functions. Making observations about plant growth, starting from seed to full development, helps sharpen mental health. Even the excitement that comes with observing the health of something you nurtured is beneficial to emotional health and establishing confidence.
Focused on plant growth as a form of building a support system, social horticultural therapy seeks to enhance quality of life. Participants will be advised about herbs and spices to both add flavor as well as cure minor maladies. The experience of growing, cultivating, and picking their own herbs helps foster confidence and community.
At Enlightened Solutions, we don’t just believe that being out in nature is good for one’s health: we know it is! That’s why we offer horticulture therapy as part of the treatment plan for our clients. Nothing quite heals the mind and body like natural light, fresh air, and the beautiful sights of the outdoors. Our treatment programs include teaching clients how to nurture themselves by nurturing living things, taking the focus away from the self. If you’re struggling with substance addiction and want to learn more about the programs we offer, please call us today at (833) 801-LIVE. Our programs are individualized and tailored to meet your unique needs.
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