Nature as an Antidepressant
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EVERY year on April 7 we celebrate World Health Day. This year the theme was “Depression: Let’s Talk”.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health in its broadest sense as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Depression is one of the most insidious mental illnesses, because to people who are not depressed it seems like it should be easy to overcome.

“Just shake it off” or “Stop feeling sorry for yourself” are common words of advice when someone is unhappy and cannot seem to help themselves. More helpful advice would be to encourage a depressed person to see a professional counselor who can help the sufferer overcome depression and enjoy life again. Severely depressed people may contemplate hurting themselves or even killing themselves. Never ignore someone who is considering suicide: get them to a professional counselor as soon as you can. You may save a life
Our environment is an important component of maintaining our good health.

Often when we speak of environment, we specifically mean the natural environment that surrounds us: water, trees, birds, plants, insects, air and of course, other people. When the environment is clean, comfortable and healthy, then the people and animals that live there can also be healthy.

The quality of our environment affects our physical health, but it has also been proven to impact our mental and spiritual health as well. A beautiful sunrise over the river, the cheerful song of a bird, the brilliant green of leaves shining in the sun: these are all capable of lifting our spirits and making us feel happy. Here are some ways that interacting with nature can keep you mentally and spiritually healthier.

1. Go for a Walk: Stanford University, USA, found that walking in a quiet natural place decreases activity in the part of the brain that generates negative thoughts. Whether it is on a path in the national park or along the shoreline, getting exercise while enjoying nature is a time-honoured way of relieving stress and clearing the mind. Sunshine is a known anti-depressant. According to a study by the Mayo Clinic, USA, sunlight increases your brain’s release of mood-boosting serotonin.

Exercise increases the circulation of the blood and makes the brain better equipped to handle stress. John Ratey, author of “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” says that exercise is the single most powerful tool we have to combat depression. Solutions to problems are more easily seen when you take time to stop everything else and get out to exercise in the natural beauty of your world.

2. Do Something Useful: It is difficult to be depressed when you are busy doing useful things. Healthtalk.org recommends replacing inactivity with activity as an effective step to stop being depressed. Working in a garden, leading a school group on a hike, cleaning up your neighbourhood, and planting trees or flowers all have the advantage of cheering you up while helping conserve the environment!

3. Clean It Up: Take a good look at your surroundings and decide what can be done to improve it. Clear away old rubbish, clean out the canal in front of your home or put out some flower pots. When your home is clean your spirits will rise!

4. Stop Using Pesticides and Poisons: Many people use pesticides and poisons in their homes, even around their children. A study from the University of California, USA, found that some household pesticides can attack your nervous system and brain if you are repeatedly exposed. How can you protect your family? Always read the chemical labels and follow the instructions. Avoid putting toxic chemicals on floors or counters where someone else might accidentally get contaminated.

Keep all poisonous chemicals out of the reach of your children and away from food. Always wash your hands after using Bleach, Lysol, Fish or other common products. Look for non-toxic ways to control pests: control ants by putting dish washing detergent or wood ashes in places where they enter; use mouse traps instead of poison; use a flyswatter to kill insects. Remember that anything that can hold rainwater can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Turn over empty coconut shells, buckets, tins and anything else that can hold even a small amount of water.

5. Close Your Eyes: Meditation can help you focus your thoughts and leave negative energy behind. Feel the cool breeze, listen to the frogs and birds, taste the salt air, see the blue sky and smell the flowers. Taking time to become part of nature will bring you peace.

6. Practice Gratitude: Being thankful for our wonderful world will lift your spirits. Studies at the University of California discovered that practicing gratitude increases joy and reduces depression, envy, resentment, regret and frustration. Start by writing down 3 things you are thankful for each day. You do not have to choose huge things: it can be as simple as being thankful for a bed to sleep in. Any person, no matter how poor or unlucky can find joy in nature if they will look.

7. Create: Nature has always been a source of inspiration to artists, poets and musicians. Healthtalk.org says that creativeness can reduce depression both by giving an outlet for your emotions, and giving you pride in accomplishment.

Clearly there is a connection between a healthy environment and our own physical, mental and spiritual well-being. As we celebrate World Health Day, and specifically the theme of “Depression: Let’s Talk”, remember that there is peace and comfort awaiting you in the world that surrounds you.

C/O EIT Division, Environmental Protection Agency, Ganges Street, Sophia, GEORGETOWN, or email us at: eit.epaguyana@gmail.com

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