Interacting with nature is important for our overall well-being.
In Japan, Shinrin-Yoku or Forest Bathing is a program that encourages people to get out into nature, to literally bathe the mind and body in greenspace. More broadly, it is defined as “taking in, in all of our senses, the forest atmosphere.”
Researchers in Japan have collected psychological and physiological data on over 800 adults who have engaged in shinrin-yoku. These studies have confirmed that spending time within a forest setting can reduce psychological stress, depressive symptoms and hostility, while at the same time improving sleep and increasing both vigor and feelings of liveliness (1-7).
Having live plants and flowers in your home and office is beneficial for your health.
Even just having a plant in your room may improve your mood. For instance, patients in a hospital room with indoor plants reported less stress than those in the control condition (8-10). Decorating offices with plants has also been shown to decrease levels of discomfort such as cough and fatigue and improve health (11).
These effects may in part be caused by the plants removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air (12). VOCs are emitted from materials such as carpets, wallpaper, office chairs, and electronic equipment, with highest emissions from new products. Several ornamental potted plant species have the ability to absorb VOCs from indoor air and reduce exposure to the dangerous chemicals (13).
Interacting with nature also helps you focus and brings you into the present moment. When you look at a plant or smell an aromatic flower, your mind is drawn into the pleasant experience.
When your thoughts focus on nature, your mind is no longer filled with the chattering in your head- no more worrying about the past or anticipating the future.
Touch the plants. Smell them. Talk to them. Take pictures and videos of plants and flowers and share them.
Looking at pictures and videos of nature can help lower blood pressure and relieve anxiety (10, 14).
Keep in mind that this can be very individual- you may find images of oceans and water very calming, or you may respond better to images of trees and forests.
Choose images that are meaningful and beautiful to you.
In a preliminary study, exposure to a virtual natural environment helped individuals recover from a stressful challenge better than the control group (15). These results suggest that spending time is a virtual forest could help enhance your calm.
Do you have a favorite nature inspired game you play?
Listening to pleasant nature sounds can help lower blood pressure, relieve anxiety and reduce agitation levels (16-18).
Aromatherapy is a simple, effective and enjoyable method of stress relief.
Terpenes are small flavor compounds you can smell. Examples include linalool from lavender and limonene in citrus rind. Terpenes can enter into your body as you inhale them (19-20). Terpenes have many health benefits and smelling them can help enhance calmness and improve mood (21).
Lavender essential oil has a rich floral scent, which can improve states of calm and relaxation (22-27). Smelling lavender has been shown to significantly decrease blood pressure and heart rate, and reduce levels of stress hormones, including cortisol (24). The aroma of lavender has also been shown to increase the power of theta (4-8 Hz) and alpha (8-13 Hz) brain activities, which correspond with a state of deep relaxation (25).
Sweet orange essential oil has a fresh, sweet and citrusy scent and smelling sweet orange can reduce anxiety, improve mood and increase calmness (27-29).
Try This: Break into the peel of an orange, inhale deeply and smell the terpenes!
How do you interact with nature when you can't get outside?
“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.”
–Henry David Thoreau
All photos from this series taken by Penelope Slack
1. Mao GX, Lan XG, Cao YB, Chen ZM, He ZH, Lv YD, Wang YZ, Hu XL, Wang GF, Yan J. Effects of short-term forest bathing on human health in a broad-leaved evergreen forest in Zhejiang Province, China. Biomed Environ Sci. 2012 Jun;25(3):317-24.
2. Tsunetsugu Y, Park BJ, Ishii H, Hirano H, Kagawa T, Miyazaki Y. Physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the atmosphere of the forest) in an old-growth broad leaf forest in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan. J Physiol Anthropol. 2007 Mar;26(2):135-42.
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