It seems that our biology didn’t come with a terribly strong mechanism for prioritizing many habits that make us healthy. It’s as though survival was the dominant driving force, and now that survival has been greatly simplified we face the potential of being overly indulgent, sedentary, and lulled by the digital glow of the screen.
While most of us experience a noticeable sense of well-being when we frolic in nature, known as the biophilia hypothesis, it seems that temptations of modern living are stronger than that of nature. This is illustrated by the trend of urbanization. It’s not really surprising that our human family continues to choose the comfort of domestication, but at what cost and can we go too far?
If you imagine for a moment, a chimpanzee living a modern life; flat-whites, smartphones, fastfood, knowledge work, social media, and treadmills. The result of urbanisation is what most of us know as home. In Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods he describes a hypothesis he calls Nature Deficit Disorder. His research shows we are spending less time in nature, resulting in a wide array of behavioural problems.
We are seeing an epidemic rise in depression and anxiety disorders. Currently, 6.6% of US residents will experience a “severe depressive” event in any given year, and 18.1% will experience an anxiety disorder. While medication is often needed when the condition becomes severe, we don’t seem to be looking at the underlying causes, and to me, our distance from nature is one of the major causes. I can certainly feel the difference in my body when I choose to spend a day with my computer, compared to a day hiking in the forest.
Did you know in Japanese they have a term that translates to “forest bathing”?! Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, was first suggested in 1982 by the Forest Agency of Japan. Research has shown forest bathers experience lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, and greater parasympathetic nerve activity compared to city bathers. In addition, breathing the naturally occurring essential oils from trees, called phytoncides appears to support our immune system. Phytoncides are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds from trees, such as a-pinene and limonene, and they serve as part of the tree’s immune system.
You might be thinking, “Hanging out in a forest sounds great, but I’ve got work to do!” All that work isn’t doing us much good. People are reporting increased stress and less free time. I’m sure you can imagine the negative repercussions, they include the increased risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and cognitive decline. What to do? Question what’s most important in our lives. Prioritize the things that truly bring you joy. Create habits that support your wellbeing, like forest bathing, and consciously notice what activities cause stress. Did you know that the reported benefits of forest bathing mimic those of mindfulness and meditation? Go hug a tree and you can expect reduced stress, blood pressure, even faster recovery from injury, along with improved immune function, mood, sleep, focus, and energy. Go nature!
No forest? Here are some suggestions:
If you find yourself far from a forest, remember it’s nature we’re after, and she’s never far away. Try the following:
- Get outside anywhere. Just pause, look up at the sky, relax and watch the clouds. Slowing down is the answer to many of our problems.
- Prioritise nature. Consider how you can get more Vitamin-N. Local parks, houseplants, balcony garden, or a nature vacation, remember it’s your wellbeing at stake.
I’m ready to get outside!