When we think of free time, we simply think of it as unrestricted time to do what we want. As if it should really be called selfish time. That would be inaccurate, too, because free time is most often spent running errands, with an emphasis on “running.” But what if it was spent as time free of spending, worrying and baggage. Times that leave you with nothing tangible – literally nothing to show for it, is truly free time.
Eco therapy is a form of free time. It’s the natural painkiller we get when we spend time in green spaces. Think of activities like walking outside, sitting under a tree and running our fingers through beach sand. What do we get from this connection with nature? Well for starters nature promotes endorphin levels.
The University of Essex (England) did a study that compared the mental benefits of taking a walk in a shopping mall versus in a rural setting. After the country walk, 71% reported decreased levels of depression and 90% reported increased self-esteem.
In contrast, the mall walkers had only 45% with a decrease in depression and 22% said they actually felt more depressed. They also reported 44% with lower self-esteem after window-shopping at the shopping center. Could this be another source of consumption’s negative influence? Just physically being in a retail environment caused tension and loss of spirit. A big part of happiness is not being so hard on ourselves. Society has allowed us to judge ourselves against unrealistic standards. We must remove ourselves from these toxic visuals that affect our self-image so adversely.
On the flip-side putting ourselves in nature helps us sort out our thoughts, relax and detoxify. We gain clarity on what’s bothering us and let the little things drop away. Our thoughts are free to evolve as we work through our emotions without forced stimulus. We can let our senses work together to tame stress and anxiety. Taking the time to put ourselves in nature also gives us a greater sense of self.
Remember the 1991 movie Grand Canyon where several adults dealing with major life issues end up vacationing at the Grand Canyon. The magnitude of the Grand Canyon helps them put their problems in perspective. Nature decreases our ego in a way that fosters our abilities to cope. The natural environment exposes the vastness of life, overshadowing our trivialness. This is where the expression “runner’s high” comes from. A euphoric elation from the great outdoors transforms our mood and sense of wellbeing.
And did I mention that it’s free. There’s no fee, guilt or explaining. There is no second-guessing, follow up or maintenance. It’s as pure as a game of hide and seek. It costs nothing to breathe fresh air and look at falling leaves. We can make snow angels and skip stones until our heart’s content. Try climbing a mountain for a whole new view of nature. Or take a self-guided garden tour. Go bird watching and stay for the sunset. Make it a private escape or share your free time with family and friends. I bet you’ll wake up the next day feeling like a million bucks. Nature is just that good.