In Japan, Shinrin-Yoku or Forest Bathing is a program that encourages people to get out into nature, to bathe the mind and body in greenspace. More broadly, it is defined as “taking in, in all of our senses, the forest atmosphere.”
The term forest bathing was created in 1982 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan (1). It refers to a healing technique that restores the physical and psychological health of the human body through a “five senses experience” of vision, smell, hearing, touch, and taste when the body is exposed to a forest environment (1).
Numerous studies have confirmed that spending time within a forest setting can reduce psychological stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms and hostility, while at the same time improving sleep and increasing both vigor and feelings of liveliness (1-7).
How do you interact with nature when you can't go outside?
1. Bring Nature To You
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 fatigue (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 (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.
For a few moments, your thoughts are clear.
You feel calm.
2. Look at Images of Nature
Looking at pictures and videos of nature can help lower blood pressure and relieve anxiety (10, 14-16). 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.
3. Listen To Nature
Listening to pleasant nature sounds can help lower blood pressure, relieve anxiety and reduce agitation levels (17-19).
4. Smell Nature
Aromatherapy is a simple, effective and enjoyable method of stress relief.
Terpenes are small active compounds you can smell. Examples include alpha-pinene from pine trees, linalool from lavender and limonene in citrus rind. Terpenes can enter into your body as you inhale them (20-21). Terpenes have many health benefits and smelling them can help enhance calmness and improve mood (22).
Lavender essential oil has a rich floral scent, which can improve states of calm and relaxation (23-28). Smelling lavender has been shown to significantly decrease blood pressure and heart rate, and reduce levels of stress hormones, including cortisol (25). 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 (26).
Sweet orange essential oil has a fresh, sweet and citrusy scent and smelling sweet orange can reduce anxiety, improve mood and increase calmness (28-30).
5. Eat Nature
There is evidence that higher dietary intake of fruits and vegetables is related to better mental health.
The most prominent results indicate that high total intake of fruits and vegetables, and some of their specific subgroups including berries, citrus, and green leafy vegetables, may promote higher levels of optimism, reduce the level of psychological distress, and protect against depressive symptoms (31).
Therefore, the recommendation to consume at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day may be beneficial also for mental health.
Interacting with nature promotes a state of calm and relaxation.
How do you interact with nature when you can't get outside?
- Ye Wen, Qi Yan, Yangliu Pan, Xinren Gu, Yuanqiu Liu. Medical empirical research on forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku): a systematic review. Environ Health Prev Med. 2019; 24: 70.
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