Forest Bathing at the Heart of Stress Management

Forest Bathing at the Heart of Stress Management

Man has been a part of nature since the birth of the species. Unfortunately, many people become alienated from nature with urbanization and technological development. As early as 1984, American psychologist Craig Brod coined the term technostress to refer to the stress of technology and computers in humans.

People generally prefer nature over urban environments, but little is known about what people think about when they see these environments. Based on a study done in 2018, associations with natural and sunny environments were more positive than those with urban and overcast environments. Natural scenes seem to elicit mainly positively valenced associations, whereas associations with urban environments are mixed.

For example, most Finns still consider nature to be a very important issue in their lives, even though the majority of Finns now live in an urban environment. According to a study prepared by the Finnish Forest Research Institute, only about five percent of Finns feel that they belong to genuine urban people in terms of the attractiveness of the urban environment. Correspondingly, 19% of the population feel that they belong to genuine natural people. In any case, about 95% of the population finds nature attractive. 

Many studies have shown that people value natural areas more than the built environment. In particular, trees, plants, water bodies, altitude fluctuations, and, in general, good care of areas are traits that please people. The health effects of a unified natural forest, which mainly contains the sounds of nature, are more pronounced than in a park or built-up green area.

time spent in the forest

Source: Hartig, T. et al. (2003). Tracking restoration in natural and urban field settings. Journal of Environmental Psychology 23 (2): 109–123

In 2016, an extensive review of 52 studies was published in Japan, according to which the observed physiological effects of nature and forest include:

  • Decreased salivary cortisol levels
  • Decrease in pulse rate
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Increase in heart rate variability (HRV)
  • Balancing of the autonomic nervous system

In Japan, patients are prescribed shinrin-yoku or forest bathing to balance hectic and dense urban life. Literally, this means “internalizing the atmosphere of the whole forest with all the senses.” 

effects of the forest

If we cannot go to nature, let nature come to us. In the workplace, the presence of natural elements (eg greenery, green walls, and other green areas) significantly reduces perceived stress and increases job satisfaction. Studies also show that the view of nature reduces work-related stress and increases job satisfaction. Listening to the sounds of nature can be brought to the work environment, for example, with anti-noise headphones. Similarly, viewing nature images on a computer helps to balance the autonomic nervous system after a mentally challenging situation.

Preliminary studies have found that barefoot walking and standing, or grounding or earthing, can reduce inflammation, reduce oxidative stress, improve blood circulation, and lower stress levels. Staying longer in the woods and even overnight reduces stress and lowers the inflammatory state of the body. Sleeping grounded has also been shown to lower cortisol levels and equalize cortisol secretion during the day.

To conclude, a large British population study published in 2019 found that spending at least 120  minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. This is just 2 hours, which can be achieved quite easily. It did not matter how 120  mins of nature contact a week was achieved (e.g. one long vs. several shorter visits/week). The key is to actually spend time in the nature.

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Do you spend 2 hours in the nature per week? Let us know in the comments :)

This article was a short excerpt from the forth-coming Resilient Being Book. You can pre-order it now and support our work!

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