Updated: Apr 30, 2021
In times of stress and change, it’s more important than ever to connect with the natural world.
Nature immersion – or, ecotherapy – has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety, lower cortisol levels, relieve high blood pressure, improve heart and skin conditions, and alleviate asthma.
Eco-Therapy: A Definition
The concept of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing or forest therapy) was developed in Japan in the 1980’s, and suggested that people who spend time in natural settings, particularly under the canopies of trees, will experience positive emotional, physiological and psychological effects.
Being in the forest is, to put it simply, pure magic. The sound of the wind in the trees, the crunch of old leaves, twigs and pinecones beneath your feet, the sharp smell of clean air, the way the light is green-tinged and dappled by the boughs.
How could you not feel better in mind, body and spirit with all that going on?
The Science Behind It
It’s not just a theory: shinrin-yoku has actually been put to the test by honest-to-goodness doctors, who found a plethora of positive effects from forest bathing.
“Walking in the woods [caused] significant reduction in chronic widespread pain and depression”, found one study. Students who walked just 15 minutes a day in the woods displayed decreased stress and heart rates.
Time spent in the woods has also been proven to have a positive effect on feelings of anger, aggression displays, overall mood, ADHD symptoms in children and even recovery from disease.
Forests have even been proven to strengthen our immune system, by promoting “natural killer cells” which destroy cancer cells. (Dr. Eeva Karjalainen)
The magic component of forests? Phytoncides.
Phytoncides are essentially like natural essential oils - nature-derived aromatherapy; phytoncides from trees have been proven to positively affect human immune systems and cognitive experience.
Now, more than ever, with the world in such an upheaval, forest therapy is perhaps one of the best ways to reduce quarantine-caused stress and to spend time outdoors without worrying about the six-foot rule or wearing a mask.
Great for the Kids
Families with young children are finding life increasingly difficult in 2020, to say the least. The munchkins are bored being stuck indoors and not being able to see their friends as much or as openly. Parents are going stir-crazy with all the extra noise and mess, many also trying to work from home.
Forest bathing is an excellent weekend activity for the whole family. Kids can burn off that excess energy while getting all the emotional and psychological benefits of forest immersion.
Only in 2020 could this present a huge appeal. While wearing a mask is a small price to pay for the health and comfort of your fellow humans, trees aren’t bothered if you don’t wear one in their presence!
Another plus: without your mask on, you get the full benefit of breathing in that incredible "forest smell" - the clean air, the earth, the roots, the forest debris decaying beneath your feet. Yum!
Alone, or Together
A favourite activity of couples, going hiking in the woods can make you feel connected to both each other and the world at large.
Whether you take a friend or significant other, or take only yourself, you never really feel alone in the woods. The trees are living organisms, and they hide a host of little critters. If you’re looking for some alone time, away from your fellow stuck-at-homers, going for a simple walk in the woods can lend you that little bit of extra sanity.
Scrapbooking & Nature Crafts
This isn’t just for kids! There are few things more soothing than walking through the woods and collecting a beautiful leaf here, a perfect pine cone there.
If the fresh air, easy exercise and overall health benefits don’t appeal to you, you can create beautiful works of art with whatever you find on your path!
Low Impact Exercise
Walking. Just walking. No jogging or pull-ups or wildly complex gym equipment. Just a short and simple walk, at a reasonable pace can burn up to 100 calories.
With the future of gyms everywhere undetermined, and excuses to go anywhere public quickly running out, we need as much help as we can to get that 20 minute minimum!
Help Your Immune System!
Now, we’re not saying that a walk in the woods is equivalent to perfect health and immunity, but, really, how could it hurt? If phytoncides have been scientifically proven to support immune function (they have) and to help your body fight disease (that too), then you can only do your immune system a favour by spending more time in nature.
2020 has been stressful for pretty much everyone. Fear of the disease itself is just one of a hundred new stressors to everyday life. People are cooped up together, unable to work out or go about their regular days. Kids’ education and routines have been completely disrupted, people are struggling with new and imperfect working conditions, or not able to work at all, and are contending with massive financial worries.
To put it simply, we have a lot to stress about, and it’s taking its toll on our mental and physical health.
Forest bathing may not be the ultimate solution, but it might just be that little bit of extra self-care that tips the scales in favour of your overall well-being. Forest therapy isn’t a superhero or a doctor; but walking in the woods might just be that little helping hand that gets you through the week.
Take care of yourself, folks. And go talk to the trees.