Feeling Stressed? Take a Walk in the Woods! Here’s Why...
By: Bertie Cowen
Back in October 2020 the American Psychological Association reported a surge in mental-health-related problems; reporting nearly 80% of US adults say coronavirus is a significant source of stress in their lives, with two-thirds saying their stress levels have increased during the pandemic.
Perhaps this comes as no surprise and “wellness” has been a very popular topic over the past year.
But what might come as a surprise is that a walk in the woods is scientifically proven to reduce stress and improve mental health… That’s right! Specifically, going for a walk in the woods can slow your pulse, reduce blood pressure and curb your anxiety levels.
What is more, the Japanese recognised the health benefits of nature walks over 800 years ago! They call it shinrin-yoku, which roughly translates as ‘forest bathing’. It’s more than just recreation; it’s considered to be a valuable physical and mental health therapy. So much so, that Japan has several designated shinrin-yoku forests.
Simply put, it’s a blend of exercise and meditation where you intentionally set out to immerse yourself in the forest environment.
And so with the virus still raging and spring just around the corner, it may be that forest bathing is something easy and free you can do to give yourself a break if you happen to be feeling the weight of the world bearing down on your shoulders right now.
If you are tempted to try it, then a few tips to help you get started. (And if it all sounds a bit hippy-dippy then by all means find some exercises that work for you! These tips are merely suggestions to help you park the stresses and strains of your life at the edge of the forest and interact with nature in a deeper way than just passing through it. By intentionally focusing on the natural world our minds can find inner calm).
Use All 5 Senses
Deliberately set out to utilise all your senses. Seeing, smelling, touching, and hearing are easy enough. If you know anything about foraging, try to use your taste buds (but don’t eat anything poisonous!). You may already do these things when you go for a nature walk, but you’d be surprised how much more you will get out of it by very consciously opening yourself up to the sensations.
This Japanese word doesn’t really have a direct English translation. But it refers to the way the light filters through the trees. Really try to notice this. It’s ever changing beautiful and focusing on it should help you become very present.
Pay Attention to the Animals
Don’t just notice any wildlife you happen upon. Stop and really pay attention to how they interact with their environment, how they move, how they are comfortable with their surroundings.
Stop for a while. Strike a strong pose, really grounding yourself. Breathe slowly and deeply and let yourself feel immersed in the forest.
Speak to The Trees
Not everyone will be up for doing this but if you have the courage, speak to the trees and the plants. Provide them with a running narrative of what you observe. It can be a really helpful way of forcing yourself to notice and vocalise details that may normally pass unseen.
Stop & Sit
Find somewhere comfortable and just sit for 20 minutes. You’d be amazed at how things can change over the course of 20 minutes. And if you sit in the same place every time, you will become even more connected to the seasons, too.
Try to ‘Feel’ The Forest
As you get deeper and deeper into your experience, keep breathing, keep observing… The more you do this, the more likely you are to feel a connection with the forest.
Take some time after your experience before moving back into your normal life. With no sharp jolts back to reality, you should find that the peace and tranquility stay with you for longer.
Ready to Try It?
If you are the sort of person who already enjoys going for walks because of how being outdoors makes you feel, this could be a wonderful opportunity to take that up a level. By approaching your next walk with real intention to introduce some elements of meditation who have a real chance of harnessing and maximising the relaxation benefits of your strolls.
And if you don’t currently spend much time outdoors, I’d urge you to make the effort! Especially if you’re experiencing stress and anxiety. As a species, we’ve only just started to live in such dense populations surrounded by technology. It should perhaps come as little surprise that spending time in nature can generate profound physiological reactions in us.