Much of the current literature on the effects of nature or forest therapies focus upon restorative physical and mental health qualities, such as the reduction of stress and anxiety. The research proves a reduction in cortisol, blood pressure, and increases in cognitive functioning, among many other positive effects. One positive effect is escaping everyday stimuli in our fast-paced culture.
According to Hawkins, Townsend, and Garst (2016), a condition known as directed attention fatigue leaves one vulnerable to stress as he or she must shut out competing stimuli in daily life. Escaping daily life into a natural environment allows one to take his or her mind off the stimuli in one's day-to-day life. New sensory stimulation in the natural environment does not allow for much deep thinking, according to Hawkins, Townsend, and Garst (2016).
The calming effect of nature can provide mental health improvements as well as physical improvements that can benefit veterans by easing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) along with depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
In turn, the veteran can develop or reconnect to a deep connection with nature, leading to continual interest in returning to nature. Veterans may later choose to use their newfound connection to use the skills learned in the military that civilian life often tends to not allow, further becoming restorative (Hawkins, Townsend, and Garst, 2016).
One study by Duvall and Kaplan (2014) showed that an extended group outing in nature was highly beneficial for veterans. The researchers drew from nature programs that lasted from four to seven days with 98 participants. Each were surveyed a week prior and a week after the study. Duvall and Kaplan (2014) measured changes in mental health, social functioning, and outlook. Significant changes were observed with lasting effects up to a month!
This research suggests that a week-long daily walk with a Nature and Forest Therapy guide may benefit veterans in multiple ways as they develop connections with fellow veterans and nature.
In a literature review of research on the effects of nature-based therapy with veterans experiencing PTSD, Poulsen, Stigsdotter, and Refshage (2015) state that most research at the time of the study agrees that nature therapies have positive outcomes. The researchers state that as early as 1918 horticultural programs existed to help veterans with the experience of shellshock, as post-traumatic stress was then known. As these programs developed, they became a part of occupational therapy (Poulsen, Stigsdotter, and Refshage, 2015). Various programs involving nature have since developed independently to aid those with PTSD.
The research on veterans and nature-based therapy is being conducted world-wide as more evidence gathers for the practice's validity and it becomes recognized by mental and physical health care professionals. Many veterans are seeking alternatives or supplements for medication and turning to nature (Westlund, 2014). As one veteran said while sitting by a river bank in 2005, he finally was "at peace with life for a moment," and he hopes others can find the same peace. Veteran McEachern thus ran the Canadian Veteran Adventure Foundation for five years (Westlund, 2014). With the decline in governments offering such programs, some veterans are picking up the slack to help one another.
With the amount of past and current research in nature-based therapies proving the variety of physical and mental health benefits to people, to the land, and its more-than-human inhabitants, why not apply this knowledge to help a veteran?
I encourage you to follow this link below for a veteran's account of how nature helped him.
Duvall, J., PhD., & Kaplan, R., PhD. (2014). Enhancing the well-being of veterans using extended group-based nature recreation experiences. Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, 51(5), 685-696. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1561957272
Hawkins, B. L., Townsend, J. A., & Garst, B. A. (2016). Nature-based recreational therapy for military service members: A strengths approach. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 50(1), 55-74. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.18666/TRJ-2016-V50-I1-6793
Medication treatments show little effect on veterans' PTSD symptoms. (2014). Brown University Psychopharmacology Update, 25(9), 3-4.
Poulsen, V. P., Stigsdotter, U. K., & Refshage, A. D. (2015). Whatever happened to the soldiers? Nature-assisted therapies for veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder: A literature review. Journal of Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 14(2), 438-445. DOI: 10.1016/j.ufug.2015.03.009
Westlund, S. (2014). Making contact. Alternatives Journal, 40(2), 46-50. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1526337882?accountid=458