Ecotherapy: 5 ways to improve children’s mental health
Doing things like growing food or flowers, exercising or meditating or being around animals can have lots of positive effects
By Dr Payal Sharma Kamath
According to ancient science, immersion in nature speeds the process of healing and acts as an antidote for many physical ailments. Accumulating resilience from nature is also termed as ‘Ecotherapy’. Being in nature or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear and stress, and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes your child feel better emotionally, it contributes to their physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.
Just recently, a study showed that children who grow up with more green space around them (measured by satellite imagery), have a 59 percent less chance of developing mental disorders later in life. Yet, we live in a time filled with screen and instant gratification and getting into nature is becoming more and more difficult.
Benefits of Ecotherapy at home
Ecotherapy is an intervention to help your child with calming and balancing benefits. Spending time in green spaces or bringing nature into your children’s everyday life can benefit you both with profound mental and physical wellbeing. For example, doing things like growing food or flowers, exercising or meditating or being around animals can have lots of positive effects. Ecotherapy can:
1. Improve your child’s mood swings.
2. Help your child feel energised.
3. Reduce feelings of stress or anger and induce a sense of awareness and joy.
4. Increase a sense of optimism.
5. Improve your physical health and reduce a sense of fatigue.
6. Improve your child’s confidence and self-esteem.
7. Help your child become more vigilant and improve the sense of purpose in life.
8. Help your child feel more connected towards ‘self’ and help them build resilience.
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Ways to achieve ecotherapy
1. The Sun: Regular exposure to the sun is thought to strengthen the brain’s nervous system and releases a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting one’s mood and helping a child feel calm and focused. Serotonin is responsible for accelerating another hormone called melatonin which triggers the brain for a peaceful sleep at night. Exposure to the sun is the most natural way to get enough Vitamin D. Aim for at least 4 to 5 minutes in the balcony to perform the ritual. The exposure time should depend on how sensitive your child’s skin is to the sunlight.
2. Natural setting with houseplants: Embellish your window with natural settings using houseplants to purify the environment in your home. You can get the seeds of golden pothos, English Ivy, etc. Take moveable containers, which are large enough to accommodate one gallon of soil. Ask your child to place the soil and sow the seeds in it. Disperse it well and ask your child to water it regularly. Studies have found that mental health benefits of gardening are extensive. Having a living thing to care for gives us a sense of responsibility; if we don’t prune, water or otherwise care for the plant, it may die. This responsibility is beneficial for children suffering with mental health issues, as it gives them purpose and a sense of worth.
3. Make a Mud Brick House: Mix soil and water into a thick paste. Add some sand, then mix in the straw, grass or pine needles. Pour the mixture into your molds. Bake bricks in sunshine for five days. Such fascinating activities will help children build self-confidence and nurture self-esteem. With such activities they will learn to build a concrete foundation towards a ‘self’ phenomenon.
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4. Unconditional petting: Petting a cat or a dog with unconditional love can trigger the release of the bonding hormone oxytocin. Developing the fondness and feeling fluffy that far can lower the risk of hypertension among kids.
5. Blue Mind: Water acquires medicinal and therapeutic qualities. It enhances brain function and connectivity. Since the brain mostly consists of water, drinking water will help your child in a number of ways, including improving concentration and cognition. It will help in balancing moods and emotions.
(The writer is a Mumbai-based psychiatrist)
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