We’ve all got problems. Perhaps, sometimes more than we know. Apart from all the usual woes—work, bosses, relationships, kids, money, time—the civilized life may also be impacting our psychological well being.
Australian sustainability professor Glenn Albrecht came up with the term “psychoterratic”, creating the beginning of a vocabulary to discuss the relationship between mental health and environment.
“As climate change and development pressures overwhelm the environment, our emotional relationships with Earth are also in crisis. Pessimism and distress are overwhelming people the world over. In this maelstrom of emotion, solastalgia, the homesickness you have when you are still at home, has become”, writes Glenn A. Albrecht, one of the defining emotions of the twenty-first century.
Albrecht introduces us to the many new words needed to describe the full range of our emotional responses to the emergent state of the world. We need this creation of a hopeful vocabulary of positive emotions, argues Albrecht, so that we can extract ourselves out of environmental desolation and reignite our millennia-old biophilia—love of life—for our home planet.
Luckily Albrecht’s piece finishes on a positive note and he sees some reason for optimism in years to come, but for now we can all use the healing power of nature to overcome our daily challenges.
So what simple ways are there to make nature part of a daily routine?
The idea that nature is good for us has been already discovered in the1980s. The Japanese concept shinrin-yoku, was one of the first method describing that absorbing the atmosphere in forests can benefit your health. Researchers of shinrin-yoku have since identified a raft of physiological and psychological benefits, while globally studies suggest time in nature can, for example, restore our ability to focus, increase creativity, lower the risk of depression and even help us live longer.
Dr. Qing Li, the world’s foremost expert in forest medicine, in his book shows how forest bathing can reduce your stress levels and blood pressure, strengthen your immune and cardiovascular systems, boost your energy, mood, creativity, and concentration, and even help you lose weight and live longer.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to taking the essence of the wilderness via our senses, whether in a city park, the deep woods, or watering your office plants:
Let your gaze be drawn wherever it wants to land. Absorb the many shades of green as you look around. To experience soft fascination, it’s necessary to meander through the woods. Forest bathing isn’t the same thing as hiking or brisk walking, Li says. Aimlessness is advisable. As for how long is best to spend gazing at the trees for maximum medicinal effect, Li might ask, “How long have you got?”
Nature has beautiful sounds. Spend time among trees and open your senses. You can close your eyes for a second to focus on your hearing better. You might hear birdsong, murmuring water, breezes on branches, crunching leaves, and much more.
To hear the sounds of the forest, Li advises listening outward. Most of the time, we’re listening in—to the babbling brook of our inner thoughts and chattering ego. Being in the woods, where the sights are nice and the air smells fresh, aids outward listening.
Nature smells good. Imagine walk outside just after rain and take a deep breath in. We are all familiar with that beautiful scent. A walk in the woods is an intense aromatherapy session. Tree species all have different phytoncides with various terpenes containing different scents and properties. For example, D-limonene, which smells like citrus, is so powerful that Li says one Japanese researcher concluded it works better than antidepressants to maintain emotional wellbeing in patients with mental illness.
So the Hippies were right! Hugging trees is good for you. Hugging a tree can also be strangely soothing. Li believes the affectionate act is good for us—it engages the sense of touch, get us right up in those phytoncides, and satisfies our biophilia. You may be craving nature’s touch without understanding that you want it. Hugging a tree will really help you feel the connection you biologically need to satisfy, but aren’t always aware of.
“Shinrin yoku is like a bridge…between us and the natural world…We many not travel very far, but in connecting us with nature, it takes us all the way home to our true selves,” Li writes.
Forests can be full of delicacies—berries, mushrooms, leaves and grasses, and herbs to flavor tea or soups. In Japan, restaurants near forest-bathing locations use elements of the woods in their cooking.
Unless you know how to distinguish between poisonous and non-poisonous goods, Li advises bringing your own tea and stopping for a thoughtful ceremony, or pausing for a picnic with some local goods.
Just go outside. Enjoy!
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