The Magical Benefits of Forest Bathing for Anxiety and Stress

Laura Brigance, MS, CHC

Ok, I usually don’t subscribe to the latest ‘trend’ when it comes to health, UNLESS it’s super science-backed + super cool, so when I first heard the term ‘forest bathing’, I immediately thought you sought out a lake in a forest to actually bathe. (Ew.) This, however…THIS–is so much better than a weird bath in a questionable lake with God-knows-what nipping at your body.

Forest Bathing is actually a practice (sometimes referred to as shinrin-yoku) where you immerse yourself in a forest (specifically trees) and just….be. You basically empty your mind and use your senses to be very mindful of the things around you and what you’re experiencing right then. It’s sort of like meditation, but where your eyes are open and you’re focusing on the nature that surrounds you.

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“Ok-so why the heck would I bother seeking out a forest to do this, then?”, you may be asking…. and since I advocate merging healthy + efficient for doable daily healthy practices, you may also be asking how in the world forest bathing would be efficient.

The long and short of it is that taking purposeful breaks during your day boosts your patience, creativity, and productivity.

So that, combined with all the health benefits, is where the magicof forest bathing comes from.

What are the Benefits of Forest Bathing?

The things that Forest Bathing do to your body, mind, and soul are absolutely incredible. It invokes calm and peace, sure–but it actually does all these physiological things to your body that are crazy therapeutic!

Like:

  • INCREASED: parasympathetic nervous activity, positive feelings and feelings of well being, and even a boost in the immune system from the essential oils in the trees and plants that are emitted to protect themselves from germs and bugs!
  • And DECREASED stuff, like: lowered cortisol levels, lowered pulse, lessened feelings of depression and negative feelings,   and even less stress and hostility!

Honestly, the benefits are overwhelming–and totally worth it. And–this is the best part–it’s not just for adults.

Kids are totally benefited just as much–especially kids with ADHD! This study determined that as little as a 20-minute visit to a nature setting could increase attention performance in kids with attention deficits.

In fact, they compared the results to being as effective as recent formulations of ADHD drugs. That’s pretty incredible!!

How do you Take a Forest Bath?

Here’s how to take a nature bath or forest bath (with or without kiddos):

Step 1: Forest Bathing Near Me

At the expense of being Captain Obvious, first thing is to actually find a forest. If you already know of one near you, great! You’re on to step 2A or 2B. If not, there are a few resources online to help you locate one. The first is Discover the Forest. This site will locate a forest within a given radius in miles, based on your zip code. It also has a few other pretty cool pages, like the Discover the Urban Forest button. It’ll take you to some cool activities you can do in the forest with kids….which we’ll get to in a minute.

The second resource is the National Forest Locator Map. This option lets you see which national forests are around you, and then has the link to visit each forest’s web page.

The third resource is to just Google: ‘National Forest Near Me’ or even try ‘forest bathing near me’. Just doing this alone pulled up 3 separate hiking trails near my home within 7 miles.

And the fourth option is to find the outdoorsiest person you know and ask them! Seriously–friends/family/coworkers that camp, hike, or trail ride will absolutely know the best and/or closest forests to you.

Step 2A: How to do Forest Bathing Alone

Just FYI, I’m not about to suggest leaving your phone at home for this one. Way too many people have gotten lost in the woods for me to think that’s a good idea. However, I am ordering you to turn the ringer off, and the vibration off. And any notifications, period.

Also, I know you want to log these steps on your fitness tracker. But it’s best to actually leave that thing at home. Besides, most have apps that sync with your fitness tracker will track you via GPS anyhow. Just set that to start when you get to the forest and it should sync.

👉 Bottom line: NO ELECTRONICS.

What you SHOULD do, however, is get into a purposeful mindset about getting out into nature, in the quiet, away from everything.

A cool practice I read about is finding a rock at the edge of the forest, telling it all your worries, then tossing it onto the ground. Your worries should stay with the rock. And when you come back out, pick the worries back up if you want. (Undoubtedly nobody does.)

Your only goal in the forest should be to take note of the things around you. Use your senses. What do you see? Hear? Smell? What do the leaves feel like? (Please look up what poison ivy looks like, like a responsible human being with common sense does, before you go. Cuz looking it up on your phone is NOT allowed, Cheater!!)

Step 2B: How to do forest bathing WITH Kids

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Obviously it’s going to be a completely different experience to forest bathe with your kids.

First you should probably lay down some ground rules. Kids also need explanations for things–otherwise how do they learn?? Explain what this is for–getting in touch with nature, separating from electronics for a healthy mind break, a nice relaxation period to recharge.

Then tell them the rules: no electronics, no running, no screaming, no fighting, hands to yourself. Calm. You can touch things. But think about the things you’re seeing, the things you smell, the way those things feel in your hands. Take it all in and stop to breathe deeply with eyes closed every few minutes just to smell and hear.

Remember that there’s always the chance that the kiddos will go nuts about being in nature instead of cooped up inside in the first place. Some kids need to get all that giddiness out of their systems before they can really get into the mode of just being present.

If you feel your kiddos fall into that category, try the activity sheets from the Discover the Forest site. Print them out and let them do the activities the first few times you take them out into the forest. Then try actual forest bathing after that.

If you go out and they’re calm, but say they’re bored, even after trying a time or two, maybe let them take a book out and read, or even journal or draw. Just being in nature will give many of the benefits of forest bathing while keeping their mind going without the stimulation of electronics.

You can also find journals online for them to document the books they read, the things they've seen, or even birds they've encountered. Bird watching is making a comeback, ya'll!

The point is that getting back into nature could be a huge part of your grounding routine. And when you've been stuck inside--whether for quarantine or office work-- a new perspective and zen disposition could mean a world of difference for your health!

So get out there! 🌲

{Photo credit: forest image- Kevin Wolf, unsplash.com}

{Photo credit: child in forest- Charles Parker, pexels.com}

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My mission is to always find the magic middle where healthy + efficient merge. As a nutrition specialist and certified health coach with a master of science in nutrition, I firmly believe in nourishing the body, mind, and spirit with proper food, rest, movement, and stress management. My mission is to teach people how those CORE 4 things work together, how to do them on the daily, then put them on autopilot.

Montgomery, TX
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