If you’ve heard of Nature Rx, you may already be familiar with “shinrin-yoku” – the Japanese term for “forest bathing” or taking in the forest atmosphere. Both concepts are rooted in the idea that being in and surrounded by nature can have astounding health benefits, including on our psyche.
In fact, while it may sound too simple to be true, there is a growing body of research examining just this (Japan has both the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine and the Association of Therapeutic Effects of Forests).
As outlined in Psychology Today, a 2020 study in Frontiers in Psychology found that walking in natural settings was linked to reduced stress, including diminished blood pressure, decreased heart rate, reduced “fight-or-flight” nervous system activity and increased activation in the parasympathetic nervous system (the system responsible for your body’s resting state). Additionally, this study of other studies also found multiple other papers supporting the notion that forest bathing reduces “anger-hostility,” “confusion-bewilderment,” “depression-dejection,” fatigue-inertia” and “tension-anxiety.”
Another study found in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research also found that participants experienced a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol.
In addition to suppressing negative feelings, forest bathing also boosted positive feelings according to the Frontiers paper. Those who took time to immerse themselves in nature also felt a soothing sense of comfort, improved feelings of calm refreshment and described feeling more energised and vigorous.
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Best part? You may need as little as 10 minutes to reap some of the benefits of forest bathing.
As for why forest bathing may be so beneficial to the human psyche? Science may provide an answer here too. Research from 2020 found that it comes down to our sense of awe and wonder. Being immersed in something grander than ourselves that is hard to fully comprehend with its own set of rules and laws helps keep our own puny human problems in perspective.
Focusing on nature can in turn reinforce the idea that a sense of calm can be ever-present while the ups and downs of our personal lives are only temporary. No wonder we saw so many flocking outdoors during the pandemic. Now we just have to make sure our natural environment remains sufficiently protected and accessible so more can benefit from its healing powers.