“How ‘Nature Therapy’ Helped Me Work Through My Grief Far Better Than Any Regular Therapy Sesh”

I needed a serious intervention.


Susan Barrett |

Remember when the hippies started “forest bathing”? Well, that’s one form of nature therapy. Aka ecotherapy. Green therapy if you feel like being all CBD. Essentially, it’s tapping into the healing power of nature. And science supports it.

Yup – a growing body of evidence shows that not only is urbanisation associated with increased levels of mental illness (we’re lookin’ at you anxiety and depression), but that those very gloomy effects can actually be counteracted by, say, taking your workout outdoors, living near green urban spaces, or getting your immune system massaged via the above-mentioned gentle amble through a forest.

About a month ago, I needed an intervention

So a paddling trip down the Gariep (the star formerly known as the Orange) with Cape Country Routes came at the most serendipitous time. Ten days after my dad died. On top of a Hashimoto’s diagnosis, a longwinded disease which bypasses normal anxiety and takes your nerves stratospheric. It’s a brain disco.

Now, while any sane person would’ve cancelled and booked a 10-sesh therapy bundle in the burbs at a discount, I put my phone in a Ziploc bag. Switched to flight mode. And it was the best decision I ever made. Here’s why…

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Marine biologist Wallace J Nichols calls it the blue-mind effect.

I call it the best thing that ever happened to me.

“The term ‘blue mind’ describes the mildly meditative state we fall into when near, in, on or under water. It’s the antidote to what we refer to as ‘red mind’, which is the anxious, over-connected and over-stimulated state that defines the new normal of modern life. Research has proven that spending time near the water is essential to achieving an elevated and sustained happiness.”

I mean, this guy Wallace. It’s like he’s talking right to me.

I did reach this meditative state out there. I didn’t try to do it. Nature simply worked its magic.

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His ocean feels are solid (nature therapy is real guys)

While his ocean poems on YouTube are dreamy (do yourself a favour!), what I really love about him is that the feels are based on research. And the cold, hard research shows that “being near, in, on or under water can provide a long list of benefits for our mind and body, including lowering stress and anxiety, increasing an overall sense of wellbeing and happiness, a lower heart and breathing rate, and safe, better workouts…”

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Combining neuroscience with personal stories from top athletes, leading scientists, military veterans and gifted artists, he shows how proximity to water can improve performance, increase calm, diminish anxiety and increase professional success.

“Aquatic therapists are increasingly looking to the water to help treat and manage PTSD, addiction, anxiety disorders, autism and more. We’ve found that being near water boosts creativity, can enhance the quality of conversations and provides a backdrop to important parts of living — like play, romance and grieving.”

Grieving. That’s what I was doing on the river.

And I didn’t even know it. Because it didn’t feel like work. It wasn’t the hard, agonising “process” we feel obligated to “work through”. It felt light and easy like a slipstream … It felt right.

And it really helped.

I’m not over it. I think of my dad every damn day. But that dose of nature therapy made all the difference.

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So if you’re going through something – anything, big or seemingly small (it’s never insignificant) – or you’re just a stressy girl like me, consider taking your troubles to the water. Take a walk along the beach. Book a mini vacay somewhere in the country. Start with just stepping outside.

Note: Nature therapy is not a magic pill. Chat to your doc, take any recommended prescriptions… but there’s also no harm in complementing that blister pack with an actual blister. Or a swim.

PS: I recommend checking out Cape Country Routes – their serene country escapes are places of wonder… and often very close to water. Follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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READ MORE ON: Health Health Advice Mental Health