Stressed? Ecotherapy suggests nature treks

SAVANAH OBRIEN  The Mainstream

Post-holiday financial struggles, a rampant flu strain, looming FAFSA, OSAC, and university application deadlines and upcoming midterms, along with a persistent layer of fog hanging over the town gives students much to feel overwhelmed by.

Students with complex lives and long lists of responsibilities, easily forget the relief that a simple breath of fresh air can bring. Business major Margo Forthman destresses with “ecotherapy,” broadly defined as a process of healing and growth through interaction with the earth. “The beauty and peace of nature is what draws me in. It helps my mind relax and see the beauty that surrounds me, which helps me stay grateful,” Forthman says.

Time spent in nature away from computer screens and demanding schedules brings many physical, mental and social benefits. Besides the many opportunities for physical exercise, exposure to a calm natural environment relaxes the nervous system. According to the Mind organization’s website, levels of anger, depression, stress and anxiety will drop while self-esteem and mood begin to skyrocket.

The effects of awe, an emotion often evoked by nature scenes, should be considered when contemplating ecotherapy. Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., discusses in his book “AWE: The Delights and Dangers of Our Eleventh Emotion,” the ability of awe to reduce levels of cortisol in the body, a stress-inducing hormone. “Like a very hard spiritual stretch, awe can be an exhilarating and exciting release that borders on stress followed by a reactive sense of comfort.”

The term ecotherapy was coined by Howard Clinebell in his 1996 book on the subject. Clinebell transformed the field of “ecopsychology,” which is concerned with our psychological relations with nature, into a therapeutic field which incorporates the body. The idea that earthly interaction nurtures good health goes back generations, but only recently is being gaining acceptance in Western medicine.

Today, more and more ecotherapy certificate programs are popping up, and according to James Hamblin in his article “The Nature Cure,” published in The Atlantic, a Washington D.C. pediatrician is writing prescriptions for parks. The best part is that lying on the grass can be done free of charge, unlike traditional therapist visits which can cost up to $200 a session, according to Marla B. Cohen, Psy.D.

To fully experience the benefits of ecotherapy, as Clinebell explains it, students must engage in outreach—interaction not only with the environment, but with others who also care about the environment. Southern Oregon offers many opportunities to engage with others and get outdoors right here in our community and beyond Douglas County.

The campus Geology Club is an active ASUCC club which takes members on trips to observe Oregon’s geology, such as to the Oregon Coast and places just along the North Umpqua. “One thing you gain is more knowledge of the area you live in as well as adventure,” Vanessa Santillan, Geology Club president, says. She also says that since being a part of the club, she has gained confidence and a sense of comradery.

Geology Club meets the first and third Wednesdays of every month. Additional information can be sought through the club advisor, Karen Carroll, whose office is located in HNSB room 217. Another similar club located in Roseburg, The Umpqua Gem & Mineral Club, meets every fourth Monday and helps members gain skills in lapidary arts, in addition to rock hunting expeditions. For more information, visit their Facebook page. Also, meeting on campus every Saturday is a hiking group organized by Charles Young, a UCC associate professor of Social Science. See the article titled “UCC hiking group open to students,” in this issue.

The UCC Community Garden will also soon to be back in business. Planting will begin in either February or early March and work will continue through the fall harvest. New ideas and innovations are coming to the garden this year, including the possibility of a recycled fence. Produce from the garden may go to the school cafeteria to cut reduce food costs, so there will be much work to do this spring.

Student Jamie Vallotton, Phi Theta Kappa president, will manage the garden for the second season. She says that the garden provides soothing scenery for any and all students as well as a place to be mindful. She also mentioned that no prior gardening experience is required and students may help out as much as willing.

If someone is looking for a more challenging experience, Friends of the Umpqua is a Roseburg hiking club which meets every other Saturday. On Jan. 27, they will hike Rogue River Trail near Graves Creek. Around seven miles long, this hike provides breathtaking views along cliffs above the Rogue River and is a club favorite. For more information, visit www.friendsoftheumpqua.org or call Brad Bishop at 541-679-2892. Another group called Slopes and Trails, located in Southern Oregon, calls themselves “an activities club with an emphasis on fun.” Members participate in a wide range of activities including rafting, camping, parties, theatre and much more. Look to join Slopes and Trails at www.slopes.org.

For a combination of adventure and advocating, the Umpqua Watersheds educates the public on environmental literacy, restoration and protection of the Oregon wilderness and celebrating the beauty of the Umpqua Valley. Numerous volunteer opportunities can be found at www.umpquawatersheds.org/volunteer . The Sierra Club is an international group looking to spread awareness through exploration and protect the environment through influencing public policy. Within the Oregon chapter, the Many Rivers Group is located in Eugene and the Rogue Group in Ashland.

More peace of mind may also be achieved by a brief, yet replenishing walk to the river below campus. “When I’m wanting to escape I choose to go somewhere with water—preferably a waterfall deep in the woods,” Margo Forthman says. While the campus river walk, named the Knechtel trail for a former student, doesn’t have waterfalls, it does provide peaceful river views.

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