Let’s start with one basic fact; Stress is real. It is a human survival feature that helps increase heart rate, quicken the breathing, and tense the muscles – all to get the body ready to run for its life if there is any danger nearby. See a wolf? Heart, go pump those thigh muscles, and let me make a run for it!
Great! This is how humans survived, thrived, and created civilization – enough that I am writing this on an advanced piece of hardware (a pc), in a very comfortable setting (an insulated 20-storey apartment building). What’s not so great is that this biological mechanism still kicks in when our stress is triggered by less life-threatening situations like being late for work, or having a long to-do list.
If it weren’t for COVID, you’d be booking a plane ticket to some relaxing, untouched beach island to relax all day with a book in one hand, a beer in the other? Or even with COVID, that might be your plan for your next holiday?
I’m sure there are all kinds of benefits to travelling – including helping you relax and deal with stress. However, what if I told you there is a much easier (and maybe even more economical way) of “getting out there” to relieve anxiety?
Forest Bathing – yes, you read that right – is your natural healing antidote to stress. Just take a stroll in your nearby forest. The origins may date back centuries given the Japanese used to live very much in harmony with nature for the most part of history, but recent historical events suggest that the term Shinrinyoku (森林浴) in Japanese was first coined by the Minister for the Ministry of Forestry in 1982.
Did you just start googling for forests overseas? Well, look no further, you are living in the land of the rising sun (and amazing forestry). Japan has the third largest % of land area covered in forestry within the Developed Countries. Finland has 73.1%, followed by Sweden at 68.9%, followed very closely by Japan at 68.5%. If you live in Tokyo, your closest forest is probably the Meiji Jingu Forest.
So how exactly does Forest Bathing help relieve stress? Aside from the psychological and emotional benefits – being surrounded by green is calming for any human – there are also some measurable benefits that have been proven by science.
First, forest bathing increases the effectiveness of our Natural Killer Cells (NK Cells). What are NK Cells? In a nutshell, they are a type of cell that helps the body fight pathological challenges; Having more active NK cells means higher immunity. Research shows that with just one day of forest bathing, the NK Cells were 27% more active in the body after 1 day, and 53% more active 2 days after bathing vs someone who had not taken a trip to the forest.
Second, forest bathing decreases the stress hormone cortisol (measured by the amount in human saliva). In addition, there is a high amount of phytoncide in the air which is released from the trees. This is an antibacterial and healing substance that trees release for their own protection, and something that collectively gives the forest a “forest-y” smell. Unless you have a trauma with this smell, I think it’s safe to say you will probably find this smell relaxing in itself.
Sold on the idea? We are organizing the first (of many!) forest bathing events this week at the Forest famous for the Ghibli film “My Neighbour Totoro”.