How “Forest Bathing” Can Improve Our Mental Health

by Jenna Crawford March 08, 2017

How “Forest Bathing” Can Improve Our Mental Health

Daily activities such as work, house chores, social gatherings/events, spending time with family and many others results to the overwhelming amount of stress that contributes to your body each day. As you know stress can affect your focus, thoughts, feelings, and your body as well, where unexplained behaviors such as insomnia, diarrhea, and many more are almost certain. If stress is left untreated, it can contribute to a number of health problems (e.g., increased heart rate, heartburn, high blood pressure and many more) that may lead to certain complications. There are many ways to improve your health and “Forest Bathing” is one of the recommended natural remedies that promote health and wellness. 

What is Forest Bathing?

Forest Bathing or “Shinrin-yoku” or simply “taking in the forest atmosphere” is a Japanese practice that was developed during 1980s in Japan. It was considered to be similar to natural aromatherapy (using essential oils). Multiple studies have revealed that “forest bathing’ was known for stress management and relaxation. A cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine and it’s possible to do anywhere in the world that features a decent patch of forest. According to the founder of Shinrin-yoku LA, Ben Page stays that “forest bathing” is simply walking in nature with effortless relaxation and awareness. All you need to do is spend time with nature and expose yourself to what nature has to offer. It involves a natural forest, walking in relaxed manner and leaving your frustrations and worries behind while using all your senses to focus on one thing: the atmosphere of the forest. 

First things first, leave all your mobile phones or any other distractions that can hold you back from performing shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) and follow these five steps while breathing deeply:

See what’s growing under your feet, observed the shape, color and texture of the trees, what type of plants present (e.g.  Mangoes and big trees, shrubs, bushes, plantains, fern, mosses, and many more).

Hear the chirping of the birds, the buzzing of the bees, rustling of leaves, the sound of running water from a nearby river, or a snap from a cracking piece of wood. Be keen when listening to subtle sounds.

Feel the trees (touch the bark), the softness or roughness of the leaves, the soil/ground beneath your feet, or the slippery part of a big rock due to a moss present. 

Smell the forest air (fresh, earthy smell combined with fallen leaves), the trees and flowers. 

Taste the fruit in wild plants if present or leaves that could be used for tea. It can be a raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, dandelion, mint, pine trees (needle), and many more. 

What is Phytoncide?

Phytoncide, a combination of the word “Phyton” means plant and “cide” means to eradicate. It is produced by plants and trees to protect them from insects and germs. So phytoncides are antimicrobial organic compounds which results in the unique smell or aroma of the forest. Plants such as garlic, tea tree, cedar, pine, oak and many more plants give off phytoncide. When you practice “Forest Bathing”, essentially you enjoy the scenery with nature while inhaling fresh air with phytoncide which can decrease stress levels while also triggering natural killer (NK) cell production. 

Benefits of Forest Bathing

Positive effects of forest bathing could be determined after a couple of hours have been spent within nature. In most studies it showed:

Reduce blood pressure. Excess stress or more specifically the stress hormone plays a role, which can compromise the immune defense system and suppressed the natural killer cells then can easily alter our body with manifestations of increased blood pressure, headaches, asthma, skin problems and many other ailments. After 40 minutes of time spent in nature, “forest bathing” results to decrease in blood pressure, anxiety, and stress hormones.   

Decrease of salivary cortisol or simply reduced stress level. Salivary cortisol “stress hormone” is a reliable indicator of your adrenal function which can tell if your body is too stressed up or not. A lower cortisol level indicates that your body’s stress-response is actually triggered to a lesser degree, slower heart rate, and promotes relaxation. 

Increase of NK (natural killer) cells. An anti-cancer effect of forest bathing which natural killer (NK) cells are part of an innate immune system (also known as non-specific immune system that defend the host from infection by foreign organism) that can prevent chronic illnesses such as cancer. 

Elevates mood. When stress levels are low it clearly states that there is a sudden change of mood. The forest can increase the ability to focus, increase energy levels, and increase the parasympathetic nervous activity (controls the homeostasis or balance within the internal environment: refers to the human body).

Boost immune system. Due to low levels of stress hormones and an increase of natural killer cells, which leads to an increase of parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity as well. PNS’s main responsibility is to maintain homeostasis in the body which results in boost immune system.

How Can “Forest Bathing” Change Your Lifestyle

Spending time in nature “Forest Bathing” once or twice a week (a two-hour walk in a park or natural forest with plenty of trees) can improve your mental health performance and your mood by just following the five steps and focus on your senses: see, hear, feel, smell and taste what nature has to offer. It can also accelerate recovery from surgery or illness, increase immune system indicators, and many other things. Other benefits include: reduced blood pressure, decrease in salivary cortisol or simply reduced stress level, increase in natural killer cells, and the elevation of the mood and boost of the immune system. 

Jenna Crawford


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