Nature Therapy – Refreshing the Mind
Written by: Christopher Wood, Environmental Studies student
Studies show that immersing oneself in nature during times of high stress is a highly beneficial activity to reducing stress levels and staying focused. A simple search on Google will reveal countless studies that describe the benefits of nature therapy. One form of nature therapy could be a walk through a park, sitting on a bench and listening to the birds. Many people get caught up in the stress that a busy life offers and have lost touch with their connection to nature.
“In Japan, ‘Shinrin-yoku’, which can be defined as ‘taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing’ is currently receiving increasing attention for its capacity to provide relaxation and reduce stress.”[i] “The National Institute of Public Health of Japan promotes Shinrin-yoku, and hospitals use it as Rx” (a medical prescription).[ii] The idea of forest bathing is starting to make its way into Canada, with a recent forest therapy walk set up by the Edmonton and Area Land Trust promoting the practice of ‘Shinrin-yoku.[iii]
As university students get busy and their stress levels increase at critical times during the semester like when papers are due or preparation for exams is all consuming, there may need to be an intentional escape to nature, for its therapeutic, stress relieving potential, rather than taking antidepressant pills that westernized doctors seem to provide all too often.[iv] Organizations like the American Heart Association are producing articles/studies such as “Spend Time in Nature to Reduce Stress and Anxiety”[v] that speak about the benefits of going for a walk through a local natural area for 30 minute as opposed to pushing yourself through unbearable hours of study to squeeze information into your brain while sitting stationary at a desk. A quick walk to assist in connecting with nature has the potential to soothe the mind, lower blood pressure, provide a healthy distraction and relieve stress.
With the extreme cold weather in Alberta, it might seem impossible for an individual to go for a walk in nature when temperatures plummet below -20 C. Brain imagining studies show that listening to recorded natural sounds, such as rainfall in a forest, or waves crashing on a beach, or a film with images of nature, reduce your stress levels and improve your concentration.[vi] Amanda MacMillan for Health.com says there is a “connection between the brain, the body, and background noise” both in natural background noises and in human generated noises such as traffic or office heat vents droning. She states that; “Overall, nature sounds were associated with an increase in parasympathetic response – the one that helps the body relax.”[vii]
If you are unable to leave your office or place where you are feeling stressed, there are many other options than going out for a walk. You could plug in headphones and play some rainforest music. Or grow a plant in the office space that will “give you that dose of green you might be lacking.”[viii] On a lunch break, head to an area with running water, such as a fountain, and eat lunch next to it, listening to the sounds of the water.[ix] Or please your olfaction sense and “inhale botanical aromas” such as evergreen or eucalyptus essential oils.[x] There are many ways to use nature as a way to de-stress, you just need to be creative. Even small connections to nature can drastically reduce our stress levels. If there is not anything you can physically do, remember a moment when you had a connection to nature, imagine walking through a forest, listen to audio nature sounds, currently there are lots of apps that can assist as well, but the best therapy of all is actually going outside and enjoying nature and activate all your senses.
[i] Yuko Tsunetsugu, Bum-Jin Park, and Yoshifumi Miyazaki Treands in research related to ‘Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forsrest atmosphere or forest bathing) in Japan – Publish July 9th 2009 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793347/
[ii] Clemens G. Avary, MSc. How Being in the Forest Actually Boosts Immunity, According to Science https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/the-science-of-forest-bathing
[iii] CBC News – Go Forest Bathing With the Edmonton and Area Land Trust Published July 27th 2018 https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/edmonton-area-land-trust-10-years-1.4763636
[iv] Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Overprescribing Antidepressants. Psychology Today. Published May 11th 2009 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/side-effects/200905/overprescribing-antidepressants
[v] The American Heart Association - Spend Time in Nature to Reduce Stress and Anxiety. Aug 1st 2018. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/spend-time-in-nature-to-reduce-stress-and-anxiety
[vi] Cassandra D. Gould van Pragg. Mind-wandering and alterations to default mode network connectivity when listening to naturalistic versus artificial sounds. Published March 27th 2017
[vii] Amanda MacMillan, Health.com. Why Nature Sounds Help You Relax, According to Science. April 5th 2017
[viii] Joni Sweet. 7 Ways to Get Nature Therapy, Even If You Live in the City. Forbes. Published August 31st 2018 https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonisweet/2018/08/31/7-ways-to-get-nature-therapy-even-if-you-live-in-the-city/#3caef4e836f9
[ix] Joni Sweet