Can forest bathing help us?
Mental ill-health is a common cause of disease around the world – and it’s rising rapidly. Consequently, identifying ways to treat depression and anxiety is essential. Enter “forest bathing,” also called green care, ecotherapy and green exercising. It’s all about getting outside and enjoying the great outdoors, which is expected to be one of the biggest wellness trends in 2020. OK, you’re probably asking yourself how this can improve our mental health. Research has shown that walking or running in natural environments offers health benefits, such as reduced stress, improved mood, well-being and self-esteem. Forest bathing also allows us to socialize – even in today’s social-distancing environment. It’s easier to maintain the required distance outside. So, let’s take a closer look at forest bathing.
Are you into trekking, backpacking or walking? If you are, I’m sure you’ve already experienced how much inspiration you can get from mother nature. Experiencing beautiful natural places relaxes you and recharges your batteries. Forest bathing, which has been around for some 25 years, builds on the knowledge of indigenous people from around the world who use the healing powers of nature and honor mother earth. They know that nothing heals us like nature. That should come as no surprise at all, especially when you consider that humans have bonded closely with nature for our entire exitance. Today, of course, we tend to spend more time in man-made environments than beautiful natural ones. And that’s why we feel so good and become so awed when we return to nature. It’s a homecoming of sorts.
Connected to nature
Forest bathing studies are revealing impressive results about the benefits of connecting with nature. Psychologist Terry Hartig conducted a study where participants completed a 40-minute cognitive task designed to mentally fatigue them. Participants were then randomly assigned 40 minutes to be spent “walking in a nature preserve, walking in an urban area or sitting quietly while reading magazines and listening to music.” The group who walked in the nature preserve reported less anger and more positive emotions than the other two groups. A University of Essex study found that 90 percent of people suffering from depression experienced higher self-esteem after a walk in nature, and nearly 75 percent felt less depressed. In a similar study conducted by Mind, The mental health charity organization Mind conducted a similar study that showed “a nature walk reduced symptoms of depression in 71% of participants, compared to only 45% of those who took a walk through a shopping center.”
We are living in turbulent times, and many of us feel overwhelmed, hopeless and self-critical. Yet, one of the best ways to lower stress and improve your emotional and mental state is to spend a few minutes connecting with nature – even in the middle of a city. Researcher Rachel Kaplan found that “office workers who had a view of nature from a window reported higher job and life satisfaction than those who did not have such a view.” In addition to reducing depression, stress and anxiety, forest bathing is also said to stimulate the senses, reduce pain, improve sleep, strengthen the immune system and lessen post-traumatic stress and counter isolation.Many people are suffering while sheltering in place, especially the elderly. Past studies have shown that loneliness and social isolation cause more harm than smoking and lack of exercise. Moreover, research has shown that socializing can help you to live longer.
As a “treatment,” forest bathing doesn’t have any standards of practice or licensing requirements yet. It can include anything from regular outdoor sessions with a therapist to exercises undertaken on your own. Unfortunately, it’s still one of the most under-appreciated forms of therapy. I’m not sure why since we have more research that supports forest bathing. A 10-study analysis showed men, in particular, reported a boost in self-esteem after experiencing time spent in nature. Another study involving children with ADHD showed a reduction in ADHD symptoms after spending time in natural outdoor environments. It seems clear to me that nature is good for our health in more ways than we can imagine or understand. So, why not head outside and enjoy the great outdoors. And best of all, it’s free!