Forest Bathing to Reduce Stress and Anxiety in the Time of Covid-19

The name might be a little confusing – a bath in the forest? 

But forest bathing doesn’t actually involve any water at all (unless it’s raining, that is). Instead, this form of nature therapy is all about getting outside, leaving the distractions of the modern world behind, and completely absorbing yourself in the forest atmosphere.

Not only is it a great break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but forest bathing is closely linked to numerous health benefits, including reduced anxiety, decreased stress, and improved mood.

Although the art of slowing down and connecting with nature is always important, it’s even more important during these unprecedented times of the coronavirus pandemic where we’re all dealing with so much collective stress, anxiety, and fear.

Here’s how to benefit from forest bathing even in a time when we’re urged to stay at home.

What Is Forest Bathing?

Forest bathing is a form of nature therapy that involves soaking up the forest atmosphere with all of your senses.

Despite its natural setting, it is not hiking. Instead, you walk slowly and purposefully, stopping often, paying close attention to all of your surroundings. Forest bathing is almost like a moving form of meditation.

A slow pace is recommended as well as following no particular route. Give yourself plenty of time to move slowly and to stop to see, listen, smell, and touch the forest around you. Taste can sometimes even be a part of the forest bathing experience.

Try to notice the small movements of the forest. Take note of the birds in the air, the wind in the branches, the raindrops on the forest floor, and the shifts in the light from the moving clouds. Don’t only observe these sensations with your eyes, but see what you can hear and smell as well.

Mindfulness is key to forest bathing. Let yourself be fully aware of your body’s movements through the forest, all aspects of the forest itself, and the space all around you. A moment-by-moment awareness of the surrounding environment and your own bodily sensations is vital.

Although forest bathing can certainly be a solitary activity, it’s perfectly okay to practice with a partner (remember to adhere to all social distancing best practices currently in place). Guided forest bathing retreats are also available to those that prefer a more structured approach.

Nature therapy has been consciously practiced for hundreds of years. But the modern form of forest bathing originated in Japan in the 1980s before quickly reaching widespread popularity. In Japan, the practice is called shinrin-yoku (which literally translates to “forest bathing”).

Benefits of Forest Bathing

The powerful benefits of forest bathing cannot be overstated, especially in a time where many of us live in bustling metropolitan areas far away from dense forests.

For starters, forest bathing establishes a sense of comfort that only nature can provide. It promises an overall sense of well-being.

According to many studies, including a 2019 study from Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, forest bathing can help reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue.

Another study, this one published in 2017 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, shows that forest bathing can not only make you feel more energetic, but that it can also give you “more of a sense of meaningful purpose in life.”

Yet another 2017 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health points to forest bathing’s positive physiological effects for those with depression, significantly improving the mental health of both adults with depressive and non-depressive characteristics.

Other evidence-based health benefits of forest bathing include increased productivity, improve memory, and better problem solving skills.

With so much Covid-19 news currently occupying my mind, I often find myself overwhelmed with stress and anxiety for myself, my family and friends, and the world at large. Combine all of this with working from home and I’ve often lately found myself stuck in a cycle of negative thinking that’s hard to get away from.

I’ve personally noticed the even just five to ten minutes outside, focused on the birds, plants, and trees surrounding us, not only reduces my daily stress and anxiety, but also recenters me so that I’m more focused, productive, and motivated on my daily projects.

How to Go Forest Bathing in the Time of Coronavirus

Although visiting an actual forest (the denser, the better) is always your best bet, you can get many of the same benefits of forest bathing by just getting outside.

Just get outside and walk. Make yourself slow down and let your mind wander. This isn’t about exercise so don’t walk with exercise or a purpose or even a destination in mind. Stop often and let your senses engage and be still.

Visit a forest or even a park if you can. But, know that many parks, including some state parks, are currently closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, so this might not be possible right now.

Any time spent outside away from distractions is a must. A daily outdoors break from your everyday routine and the all-consuming Covid-19 updates is essential.

Garden therapy or horticultural therapy is another option with similar benefits. In fact, spending time working in the yard or garden is one of the easiest and most effective ways to interact with nature in an up close and personal way.

Don’t have outdoor space for a garden? Then bring nature indoors. Even just tending a small herb garden on a windowsill, balcony, or a patio can help reduce stress and anxiety.

Right now, in these trying times, every little bit of nature counts. So, make an effort to bring nature therapy and mindfulness into your life however possible – even just opening a window to let in a little fresh air is beneficial.

And, remember, one of the most important parts of nature therapy – whether forest bathing, simply walking outside, or working in the garden – is to leave all your electronic devices at home!

Final Thoughts

The benefits of forest bathing cannot be overstated.

While time spent in nature is always important, it’s even more important now with the heightened stress and anxiety caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

That said, it’s essential to respect all local guidelines, especially stay-at-home orders and trail/park closures. Even though you might not be able to travel to an actual forest, all states currently allow for outdoor recreation in your local neighborhood while practicing social distancing. 

Check out our beginner's guide to forest bathing for more practical tips. 

And, remember, let's continue to look for silver linings in these uncertain times.

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