The Japanese name for forest bathing is Shinrin-yoku. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries suggested the name in 1982. Many a stressed-out worker was offered a prescription for forest bathing in the years after. Then and now, forest bathing referred to getting out into nature and taking time to be aware of the birdsong, the wind in the trees, and the smell of fresh air.
It is easy to imagine the soothing effects of a stroll in the outdoors. But, if something is enjoyable, does it mean it's good for you?
What does science say about the psychological benefits of getting out in nature?
Research on forest bathing has found many benefits for mental health. Time spent in nature reduces negative thoughts and increases positive thoughts.
It decreases all the physical components of stress. These include reduced heart rate and blood pressure. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol also decreased. When our body is not experiencing the stress response, it is easier to think positively.
Those who think positively tend to be happier and healthier than those who don't.
The forest bathing idea spread worldwide. In many cities, you can find certified forest therapy guides who can guide the relaxation journey. These experiences are slow rambling hikes through a forest. The therapist will be knowledgeable about the native plants and animals. They will also be adept at methods to quiet the mind and relax the body.
What if forest bathing cannot be a regular part of daily life? Can small elements of nature improve mental health? It turns out the presence of house plants can have significant positive effects.
Post-operative patients heal faster if they have plants or cut flowers in their room. Productivity increases when potted plants are added to workspaces. College students sharing living spaces with plants experience less anxiety. House plants increase creativity; this is true for adults and children.
Many house plants are easy to take care of, and some do double duty. For example, Aloe can be used for sunburn and skin wounds, herbs for cooking, and jade plants clean the air.
If it is not possible to surround oneself with alive bits of greenery, pictures of the forest may do the trick. Looking at images of nature settings reduces blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol. The reduction in the stress response is almost as significant as when people are in the forest.
Looking at images of beautiful outdoor destinations is a form of a "mental vacation." When people take a "mental vacation," they focus on the beautiful scenery in the picture. It is like meditation in that there is focus and calm. Frequent meditation increases feelings of well being improves focus and creativity.
Research has found cities that have more space dedicated to nature have citizens who live longer. This did not measure if citizens were spending time in the green spaces, only that they lived longer. So simply living adjacent to green spaces has its benefits.
Don't forget pets are elements of nature as well. Combine plants and pets in a home you are doubling your caretaking responsibilities. Taking care of other living things is a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Like animals, it is clear when plants are getting the water, sunlight, and nutrition they need. Helping a living thing to thrive has proven to be good for mental health.
If you are looking for a low-cost, enjoyable way to relieve stress and protect your mental health, nature is a good option. Whether it is taking a walk in the woods, enjoying house plants, or simply staring at pictures of beautiful locations, nature can be good for your health.