Are you a parent of teenagers or young adults? Do you find yourself worrying about them All. The. Time.?? Or maybe you’re just stressed in general? If yes, then this is the post for you! I’m going to tell you about an incredibly effective practice that will help alleviate that worry and stress (specifically, reduce anxiety, strengthen your immune system, boost energy levels, improve focus, and even lower blood pressure)!
What is it? Forest Bathing.
Ok, I can just imagine the eye-rolling going on right now. That totally would have been my husband at any point before I hopped on the holistic train, but it’s really a thing! Oh, and it doesn’t involve getting naked and rubbing yourself with leaves, so don’t worry. Forest Bathing is rapidly gaining popularity because of how effective and easy it is…there are even forest bathing clubs and retreats all over North America. My husband and I were always amazed at how much more relaxed we feel at our cottage – a marked difference to how we feel at home. Now we know why!
I use the example of being a parent of teenage/young adult kids because that’s where I am right now. And it’s stressin’ me out, man! I remember when they were all young, thinking how stressful life was. Now, I laugh hysterically at the difference between then and now. Admittedly, the “problems” that I worry about with my kids are pretty much normal, everyday things that are just part of life and I’m thankful everyday that we don’t have to deal with anything catastrophic. Regardless, I worry (I worry a lot)…worry causes stress…and stress causes health problems. It doesn’t matter whether your stress comes from your kids, your job, your parents…whatever. It’s not good for your body and taking steps to reduce it is a must (particularly if you want to get to where you can enjoy watching your kids go through it with their kids. Tee Hee!).
Find Relief From Worries and Stress
How do I manage my sometimes incessant worrying? One of my favorite ways is to forest bathe…and I make it a priority to do it everyday (it feels that good!).
Forest bathing is a well-studied stress-reducing strategy for anyone with stress in their lives. (so like, everyone). It originated in Japan, where they refer to it as Shinrin-yoku (forest bath) and it’s a way of connecting to nature using all of our senses. To forest bathe, all you have to do is find a forest, or park with lots of trees and greenery and then stroll through it. Don’t go fast, don’t watch the clock, don’t take your phone (or at least mute it while you’re in there). There is no pressure or agenda with forest bathing and just one objective – to relax and be in the moment. We spend so much of our days getting in extra steps, training harder, going faster and we often forget that it’s equally important to make it a priority to get outside, just because. We need to remember that the body doesn’t distinguish between mental and physical stress. Physically stressing our bodies all the time can add to the effects of mental stress. Making forest bathing part of daily life provides a mental and physical break that everyone needs. It helps to regain balanse and gives us a break from all that dang stress.
Find yourself a forest or park with lots of trees and greenery and when you do, pay attention! Use your senses to enjoy everything around you…see how the sunlight passes through the trees, listen to the birds or the leaves blowing in the wind, notice how awesome the fresh air smells, and take the time to touch a mossy rock or different bark on the trees. Being mindful while you’re strolling, noticing how you feel forces you to be in the moment…super important! For anyone who uses guided meditation, there’s a reason they so often tell you to picture yourself in a forest.
Ok, so you’re strolling in the forest and feeling totally relaxed. Great! Here’s another cool thing – just like gratitude journaling, there’s science behind why forest bathing makes you feel more relaxed! Don’t ya just love science!
The Science of Forest Bathing
The trees and plants in the forest give off chemicals (essential oils!) called phytoncides. The purpose of these oils is to provide protection for the trees and plants from insects and germs – how cool is that?! For us, inhaling phytoncides actually improves the function of our immune system! Forest bathing has been studied extensively (there are over 300 studies in the PubMed database regarding the positive impact of forest bathing on health) and these studies have found lower levels of salivary cortisol, blood pressure, heart rate, and pulse after time spent in the forest (as compared to daily activity). Forest bathing lowers stress markers in the body…without a pill, a potion, or pushing your body beyond its limit. Another benefit of this therapy is that it’s been shown to boost Natural Killer (NK) cells in the immune system and anti-cancer proteins by 40%!
The amount of time you spend in the green space isn’t as important as doing it regularly. It’s really not all that different from supplements or exercise…they won’t work if you don’t take them/do it regularly. You can’t expect forest bathing to have a lasting effect on your health if you don’t do it enough. But really, it shouldn’t be that hard to make time to walk through beautiful trees and greenery, with the sun shining through the leaves and birds chirping, far away from the literal and figurative noise in your life. And as important as it is for us to learn to take a step back and live in the moment, I believe it’s even more important to teach our children to do so…so tell your kids all about forest bathing. Teens and young adults are dealing with so much stuff these days…learning holistic ways to reduce feelings of stress is so important for their health. The earlier, the better!
One more cool thing about forest bathing…for those days when strolling through the forest isn’t ideal (I’m all for forest bathing, but you’re not going to find me strolling through the trees in the rain), you can get similar beneficial effects with essential oils! Blends with cedarwood, cypress, rosemary, lemongrass, eucalyptus, and siberian fir (or any fir EO) will activate the parasympathetic nervous system (think, rest and restore) and slow down activity of the sympathetic nervous system (think, fight or flight). Here’s a recipe to try on the days you’re not able to make it to the green space:
- 5 drops any fir oil
- 4 drops cedarwood
- 1 drop rosemary
*Add oils to a diffuser with distilled water and enjoy!
Give Forest Bathing a Try!
You seriously have to try forest bathing for yourself – find a beautiful, lush forest or green space, stroll, .and take it all in. Pay attention to the colors, the sounds, and the smells. Let your mind go and enjoy. It’s amazing!
If you give it a try, I’d love to know what you think! And if you’ve been a forest bather for a while, kudos to you…keep doing it!