Cigarettes, junk food, alcohol: we tend to think we’re clued up on the biggest health issues in our society.
But stress is increasingly becoming a major health epidemic - one that’s being picked up on by the experts. From physician and author Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s forthcoming book, The Stress Solution, (Penguin Life, £16.99) written to address and mitigate the impact of our go-go-go lifestyles on our wellbeing, after he observed this to be the biggest health issue he was seeing in his clinic, to a recent study from City, University of London’s Cass Business School, which shows that nearly half of all Europeans graft in their free time to meet work demands, it’s an issue that’s garnering serious mainstream attention.
There’s a lot to unpack around why this is happening. But one way that some experts are seeking to help soothe frazzled souls is nature-based therapy. In Japan, it’s known as shinrin-yoku (or forest bathing). In Mandarin, it is sēnlínyù and in Korea, they call it sanlimyok. It simply involves spending time under the canopy of trees - and it’s spreading from Asia across the world.
The concept is simple: set aside some time and head to somewhere complete with natural beauty and walk under the trees. The idea is that you’ll be filled with a sense of calm and rejuvination: an ideal antidote to a fast-paced, high-stakes world. As we live in such a woodland-rich country, there’s no reason we shouldn’t embrace take a weekend and head for a drive to go forest bathing, here in the UK.
British practitioner Faith Douglas offers forest bathing as a therapeutic activity for military veterans, via the Help For Heroes charity. “Forest bathing gives you an overall feeling of calm,” she tells HuffPost UK. “You are more relaxed and clear-headed but also energised and connected, not just to the natural space but to the people around you, as well.” Trees naturally give off phytoncides or ‘wood essential oils’; when these oils are inhaled, they have been scientifically proven to calm the nervous system, creating feelings of relaxation and decreased stress.
So how can you take part in forest bathing yourself? Forest Holidays offer weekly forest bathing sessions with a qualified guide in Blackwood Forest, Hampshire. These involve gentle strolls through nature as you’re taught how to open your senses up. Alternatively, you can spend a whole weekend surrounded by greenery in a Norfolk treehouse, with Happy Valley glamping retreats.
The beauty of forest bathing, however, is you don’t have to spend money to enjoy the benefits of this calming practice. You can simply have a go yourself. Just head to the New Forest, Sherwood Forest or Galloway Forest, some of the most beautiful woods in Great Britain, to enjoy your own shinrin-yoku ritual.
While walking through woods might seem straight forward, it is useful to have a guide. The key to forest bathing is being mindful about your actions in nature. Strolling along without paying attention to your surroundings won’t cut it. “The trick is to switch on all your senses and be fully present,” says Douglas. “You might have heard of mindfulness, but a lot of people find it difficult to be present. A guided forest bathing session will help you achieve this and apply those tactics yourself.”
For many, disconnecting from the modern world and spending the weekend surrounded by nature is crucial to their mental wellbeing. With forest bathing, “people are glad to have permission to switch off and think of nothing, other than their beautiful surroundings,” says Douglas.
As John Muir wrote over a century ago, “thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.”
We couldn’t agree more.