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The Green Cure for Chronic Stress

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"Stress Fractures," an article by Judy Lin in UCLA Magazine, tells us that:

"Americans are losing it. Living in chronic-stress mode, our days running 24/7, we are driven by an insatiable appetite for more -- a bigger home, a faster car, a thinner cell phone, a sharper television, all that is new and different and exciting. All this... is driving us to the edge. As a nation, we are more anxious, more depressed. Patterns of self-destructive behavior such as obesity and addiction are on the rise. Our communities are eroding; our leisure is evaporating. Even our children are suffering in this highly competitive world; kids born since the 1970s are more apt than earlier generations to have anxiety disorders, depression and attention-deficit disorder..."

So what are too many conventional therapists recommending when clients show up in their offices suffering the direct results of this completely unnatural, chronic-stress lifestyle? Drugs and six sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy.

Ecotherapists take a different approach. We start with nature and some basic questions.

What is the natural lifestyle for homo sapiens, a species evolved during the Pleistocene and designed to live as an integral part of nature in small bands? What living conditions are normal and healthy for us? And how can we make the transition from unhealthy living patterns to more natural lifestyles, given the culture we now live in?

This "Natural Lifestyle Therapy" approach can help us make internal and external changes that will help us get back in sync with both the internal natural systems in our own bodies and the external human and more-than-human nature within which we are all inextricably embedded.

Ecotherapists believe that if mental health practitioners don't name the elephant in the room (the fact that the way we're living is a big part of what's making many of us sick), we can end up merely putting a band-aid on a deep and even fatal wound.

Here are a few of the behavioral experiments ecotherapists might suggest to lifestyle-stressed clients:

  • Go on a week-long media fast.
  • Keep a time diary to record hours spent inside and outside, in front of media screens, on computers or cell phones, driving, sleeping, in physical contact with loved ones and nature, etc. (This can often provoke some very emotional discussion.)
  • Meditate or exercise outdoors.
  • Try somatic psychotherapy or bodywork to get back in touch with the wild nature within your own body.
  • Slow down and do less.
  • Record eating habits, including the source of one's food and the miles it has traveled to the table or fast-food outlet.
  • Simplify inhuman schedules for everyone in the family.
  • Consider changing career conditions or jobs so you can work less but enjoy life more.
  • Share with your therapist or friends your deepest concerns about our culture and environment.
  • Learn more about industrial-growth economies and consumerism, which can remove the sense of "it's our own fault" that we're so stressed.
  • Take up gardening, growing at least some of your own food even if it's a small pot of herbs on a windowsill.
  • Get active in a group that's protecting local nature.
  • Help your kids recover from what Richard Louv calls "Nature Deficit Disorder" by spending more time outdoors playing freely and less time indoors in regimented classes and activities.
  • Really get to know the place where you live. Take local ecology and history classes.
  • Downshift and simplify your lifestyle; let go of "keeping up with the Joneses;" join or start a Voluntary Simplicity Circle.
  • Declutter; less stuff, more joy! Buy less and get out of debt.
  • Spend more time with people you love; build community, get to know your neighbors, join a club.

And readers may come up with many more ecotherapy practices that are helping you get off the chronic stress merry-go-round and into a healthier, greener way of life.

Natural Lifestyle Therapy isn't a complex new regimen. It's a return to traditional wisdom, old-fashioned common sense and individual and collective sanity. As we make changes towards living the way nature intended us to live, we become happier, healthier and more peaceful with ourselves and all that surrounds us.

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