Between the anxiety-inducing news headlines and post-pandemic stresses, our physical and emotional health has taken a hard hit. How can we combat feelings of anxiety, stress, and burnout? The simple answer—find an escape through nature.
According to the American Psychological Association, a typical American spends more than 10 hours per day in front of a screen. It is no wonder Americans seem more disconnected, stressed, and burned out than ever before. We have made a cultural shift of stepping away from fostering a deeper, healing connection to the natural world and have filled our days with all things indoors and on a screen.
How we spend time in our environments can increase or reduce stress levels. What we see, hear, smell, and experience can change our moods and impact our nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. The stress of an unpleasant workday or a tense home environment, along with long commutes, can cause us to feel distracted, irritable, and helpless. These feelings elevate our blood pressure and heart rate, create muscular tension, and suppress our immune system. Immersing ourselves in nature can be a powerful source of escape.
WHAT IS “FOREST BATHING?”
Forest Bathing stems from the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or “Forest Air Bathing” in English. Shinrin-Yoku, or Forest Bathing, asks the participant to engage with the forest air in the same way we observe water. By looking at the forest air as it moves in waves and currents, like the ocean and rivers, we can see the currents in the patterns of clouds floating in the sky or by feeling the wind in our hair or the movement in leaves and grasses. Sound travels through the air, shaping itself in layered patterns to be heard by the receiver. Forest Bathing is a way to heal in the experience and sensations of nature. We learn to practice patience and remember not to rush things that move at their own pace.
The impact of being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress. The natural smell of the woods interacts with our brains and produces a sense of being alive. The sound of birds chirping relaxes us physically while at the same time stimulating us cognitively.
FOREST BATHING AS SELF-CARE
Forest Bathing is a practice that belongs in each person’s self-care toolbox. It has been scientifically studied for its health benefits with its ability to reduce depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Forest Bathing significantly lowers cortisol levels, blood pressure, and heart rate. It creates a deeper sense of mental relaxation and increases feelings of gratitude, selflessness, and wonder.
As stated so beautifully by author and founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, M. Amos Clifford, “Healing of people and forests happens together, or not at all.” Like many practices, Forest Bathing is easy to begin, but like many self-care tools, there are layers of learning and complexity that reward us when we make it a regular part of our lives.
Jennifer Foley has worked in the health and wellness field for more than 30 years, meeting the needs of adolescents, preteens, and adults in the Indianapolis area. Her love of knowledge relating to healing led her to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Health Communication and a master’s degree in health promotion-disease prevention, and she has advanced training as a Holistic Practitioner, a Certified Wellness Program Coordinator, a Mayo Clinic Tobacco Treatment Specialist, and is also trained as an End of Life Doula and Usui Reiki Master. She enjoys helping people find their balance as an integrative well-being coach at Balanced Soul. Learn more at balancedsoulindy.com.
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