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The benefits of forest bathing: destressing in chaotic times


With the end of the term approaching, many students struggle with ways to cope with the overwhelming stress of impending papers, projects, and exams. While some are well versed in healthy and effective coping mechanisms, many turn to over caffeination, reduced sleep, and in some cases even information absorption enhancing substances i.e. “study drugs”.

These practises can put our bodies in even worse states including decreased cognitive functioning and immune systems. So what can we do to turn this around?

There is a reason why many of us are drawn to nature, which has its roots in evolutionary science. From an evolutionary perspective, it is argued that we are drawn to natural environments and find restoration in them because this is where we have lived for the majority of our species existence; urban environments have been a relatively new development.

Even for those who don’t have such proclivities to the outdoors, surrounding yourself in nature has incredible physical and psychological benefits.

Roger Ulrich studied patients randomly assigned to hospital rooms recovering from gall bladder surgery. Some of these patients had views that showed nature, and others that were just facing other buildings. He found that patients with the nature view healed faster, had less complaints, used fewer pain medications, and felt better faster.

Rachel and Steven Kaplan also completed further research studies demonstrating that office workers experienced less frustration and stress and better moods when having a view of nature.

Japanese researchers coined the term shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” (Tsunetsugu et. al., 2010). A series of field and lab studies were done to determine how the stress response occurs differently when exposed to forest as opposed to urban settings.

People who went on “forest bathing” training sessions had better indicators of relaxation including physiological factors like reduced blood pressure, heart rate variability, lessened amounts of cortisol, and increased physical immunity. Spending just one weekend in a natural setting can increase immune responses for up to a month afterwards.

Dr. Elizabeth Nisbet also explains in her study with John M. Zelenski, “Underestimating Nearby Nature: Affective Forecasting Errors Obscure the Happy Path to Sustainability”, that exposure to nature can elicit positive feelings which in turn can increase an individual’s propensity towards engaging in environmentally sustainable behaviours.

However, many people do not expect to enjoy or reap benefits from contact with nature. This thought pattern is called “affective forecasting”, and may be the cause to the relative indifference many people feel towards the environment.

As residents of Peterborough, we are in the fortunate and unique situation of living in a space that is immersed in nature (at least for this native Torontonian). There are many opportunities to lower our stress and increase our well-being by interacting with nature, including walking the abundant walking and cycling trails.

Trent also lays claim to an expansive drumlin, and walking/cycling paths can also be enjoyed at Jackson’s Park.

This natural symphony runs at such a different pace than the urban environments we’re used to, and the chaotic cacophony it creates in our ears and in our minds. It’s a slow symphony that reveals itself before our eyes if we only stop and listen. There is something soothing about the fact that the environment is so constant, so old yet constantly renewing and changing.

Leaves whisper quiet secrets, water rushes in ferocious majesty in the winter, and babbles pleasantly in the summer. We are dwarfed in age by the enormous willows we have here, who generously bow their limbs for us to rest on. They provide medicine, shelter, rest.

So, take some time before the end of the term to step outside and enjoy the beauty this city has to offer. Your body and mind will thank you for it.

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