We all fall foul to stress. It can hit us at any time and it can really dominate our thoughts for the rest of the day, week or even month. Stress is an indication that you are over-doing it, or that you are overwhelmed by aspects of your life. In today's fast-paced world, sometimes exhausting hard work, is unavoidable, especially if you're the ambitious type. However, there is one very interesting and scientifically proven way to help reduce your stress, permanently. It's called forest bathing or also known as shinrin-yoku, in Japan where it is a very popular method to reduce the stress of urbanized city workers.
Forest bathing for stress - what the science says
A University of Rochester study found that just by simply looking at natural landscapes (as opposed to man-made environments) we feel more generous, connected to others, and in tune with our inner selves.
However when we actually immerse ourselves in a forest, (Japanese studies recommend a 2-hour walk, per week, to see a reduction in stress) the benefits are so much higher. Here's why:
1. It reduces the stress hormone cortisol (making us less stressed)
Since 2004, the Japanese government has invested some three million euros in scientific research on the therapeutic effects of forests, particularly for stress reduction. Researchers, at the University of Chiba, measured the concentration of cortisol (a stress hormone) in individuals exposed to a forest environment in comparison to those who had remained in an office environment. The researchers found there was remarkably less cortisol in those exposed to the forest environment.
2. It increases our pleasure and empathy towards others
With advanced neurobiology techniques, the scientists were further able to confirm that walking or simply just being in a forest decreases the activity of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain where cognitive functions focus on activities such as, planning, solving problems and making decisions. Instead, activity shifts to other parts of the brain related to emotion, pleasure, and empathy.
3. It builds our immune system
The immunologist Qing Li, from the Tokyo School of Medicine, has shown that a walk in a forest or a park significantly increases the concentration of a type of white blood cell that contributes to the fight against infections and against cancer. The beneficial effect of the walk of the forest can increase the white blood cells and anti-cancer proteins for up to to a week. According to Li, the volatile compounds emitted by trees are mainly responsible for this beneficial effect on the immune system. This is because plants produce something called "phytoncides", which have been found, for centuries, to boost the human immune system and are still used and sold in popular homeopathic medicines, today.
Why you should use nature in your life for stress reduction
I heard a very inspiring quote yesterday, by Chris Pratt, a Hollywood actor, "I'm sharing this video....to entice any of you watching this who may feel unease or anxiety with the state of our world. Just breathe, slow down, go outside, find something not man-made and give it a good look". Whilst I am not one to usually support Hollywood press, or advocate using it to find self-development meaning, this quote showed me that nature is a tool open to absolutely everyone. From the stressed-out single parent, trying to make it work in a demanding career, to Hollywood billionaires. It's right outside our homes, free and can be found within a few hours of your urbanized city. There really is no excuse to not utilize this tool, to aid with the reduction of your stress.
Read more about the Japanese science of forest bathing here.