Tree bathing has been a recent trend in fitness. It is most commonly called “forest bathing,” a translation of “shinrin-yoku,” its original Japanese name. This name translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere.”
The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries first coined this term in 1982. However, the concept had existed in many cultures both before and after it became popularized in Japan.
The practice was introduced to encourage individuals to spend more of their time outdoors in a low-impact manner without intense exercise. The primary goals lie in mindfulness. It is an alternative to spending way too much time in front of technology, and it was also intended to allow locals in Japan to be more connected to forests.
However, tree bathing isn’t as simple as walking around in wooded areas. It means mixing mindfulness and contemplation into the idea. You experience taking in and thoroughly “bathing” in the natural atmosphere in a conscious and engaged manner. That’s the core of many mindful practices. After all, engaging the senses and being aware of your environment rooted in the present.
Tree bathing seems to have many health benefits, both for physical and mental purposes. Researchers started studying it after locals of Japan began to embrace the practice wholeheartedly, leading to an explosion of proof that forest bathing is beneficial in many different ways. Who could have guessed that taking a mindful walk in nature could be so potent? Here are four mental health benefits of tree bathing.
1. It Satisfies The “3 Circle” Model of Mental Well-being
The Three Circles model refers to a combination of systems functioning together, namely the emotion regulation and nervous systems. When the criteria for the healthy functioning of these systems are met, the Three Circles model applies to that scenario. To best understand what this model is, here is a breakdown of each one:
· Anxiety (The Boar)
This circle is related to the amygdala, which is crucial for protective stress and fight-or-flight responses that help you survive. It essentially means that this circle is responsible for alerts, emotions, and reactions to perceived threats. This can be helpful in difficult, sudden situations where quick thought is necessary, and the amygdala can inhibit or activate the system as needed. This circle dictates avoidance and anxiety and involves the neurotransmitters cortisol and adrenaline.
· Contentment (The Ash Tree)
This circle deals with affiliative focus, essentially creating positive feelings by processing stimuli and using them to generate feelings of calm, kindness, affection, and more. This typically occurs from positive connections and involves the hormone oxytocin.
· Drive (The Falcon)
This circle refers to motivation to survive or succeed in some way or other, typically by achieving the collection of resources or experiencing success in life through work, hobbies, or family. It means a yearning for the pursuit of great things to find happiness and positive thinking. This usually involves the chemical dopamine.
Each of these three circles must exist in a healthy balance to achieve mental well-being. Overactivity of any of these circles leads to mental issues, such as depression, anxiety, and other problems. For example, too much anxiety stresses you out, too much drive makes you impulsive, and too much contentment can bore you. Or, in reverse, too little anxiety makes you impulsive, too little movement makes you depressed, and too little bliss worsens that depression more.
But what does this have to do with tree bathing? Well, as it turns out, studies show that tree bathing has a positive effect on the balancing of these circles, creating an improved emotional and mental experience. A lot of early research without using this model became confused, as tree bathing affects different people differently, but the introduction of the model cleared up some questions.
Here are some complexities that the Three Circle model explains with tree bathing:
- Some individuals experience an activation of certain circles, and others experience a subduing of certain circles, but most participants result from balanced processes.
- Different individuals can use tree bathing for various purposes, and though they all benefit, the exact reason they help can vary.
- Tree bathing helps control different systems in the body from a biological perspective, leading to more compelling mental health benefits.
- There are many different kinds of happiness and different ways to experience positive thinking, and tree bathing can provide somewhat varied experiences for those involved.
- Tree bathing helps with emotional regulation.
- Tree bathing is good for the central nervous system.
The bottom line? Forest bathing helps to balance the body, making it an excellent mechanism for improved mental health, no matter how it personally benefits you.
2. It Reduces Stress
It’s easy to see how a lovely walk amongst nature can comfort and reduce stress levels. In fact, research has shown in detail just how positive forest bathing can be for the production of stress hormones and the body’s overall feelings of calmness. Here are some key findings from studies that cover this topic:
- Tree bathing helps the body relax away from the risk of triggering the body’s natural stress response.
- The stress hormone, cortisol, decreases after time spent tree bathing, even compared with those who walk and exercise away from nature; concentration of the hormone is much lower after time spent in nature this way.
- Tree bathing boosts the activity in the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes the heart rate and promotes positive thinking; this also helps promote serenity and relaxation, allowing for energy conservation.
- By reducing stress levels, tree bathing can remove the catalyst for many health problems, often triggered by excessive stress hormones.
- Tree bathing also reduces blood pressure, which is a common issue for those dealing with a lot of stress.
A specific mental state often depends on how much energy you have. People often assume that all power is purely physical, but it can very much be mental or even spiritual. The energy you have has to be distributed throughout these different means, and when you don’t have enough of it, your mental health suffers.
Studies into the effects of tree bathing have found that it can help replenish energy in several ways, namely:
· It Promotes Sleep Quality
You can sleep for a very long time and still feel drained in the morning if the quality of your sleep is terrible. The sleep cycles must complete themselves to restore you, and disrupted sleep can ruin your restfulness. Forest bathing can improve sleep quality, which lends itself to your ability to handle the following day’s stressors.
· It Allows Faster and Longer Sleep
If you’ve ever laid awake in bed tossing and turning, then you know just how frustrating it can be to try and sleep for hours and not succeed in time to get sufficient rest. For many, the source of such insomnia lies in anxiety. Fortunately, forest bathing helps to counteract that by evoking a sense of calm. The exercise that comes from this can also help you fall asleep faster at night, increasing the duration of rest, so you have more energy the next day. Getting enough sleep is also essential for mental health, as it dictates how resilient you are to stress and anxiety.
· It Provides Additional Energy
Tree bathing is a fantastic source of rejuvenation. When you’re out walking in nature, your body begins to fight stress with positive hormones, making you feel invigorated. These revitalizing effects give you a little more energy and enthusiasm to get through the day, feeling refreshed. This helps to reduce mental condition symptoms, especially anxiety or stress.
4. It Boosts Creativity
Forest bathing has been found to have positive effects on overall creativity. Creativity is often overlooked when it comes to mental health. But it does play a fairly significant role in your psychological wellbeing. A creative mind is an active and healthy one, and this trait comes into play in areas such as:
- Solving problems, allowing you to overcome hurdles and challenges with more ease and resilience
- Coming up with new ideas allows you to think outside the box and be more innovative.
- Creating art, which is a fantastic form of expression that can help your mental health
The previous research revealed that you could enjoy a 50% increase in your performance related to creativity and problem-solving after spending time in nature. Tree bathing without access to technological devices is a great way to gain these benefits.
Many people believe that the concept of tree bathing or forest bathing is best reserved for those who love the wilderness and the great outdoors. But you don’t need to be a nature lover to enjoy the many benefits of tree bathing. Anyone can enjoy the positive results of being out amongst lush greenery and retaining a mindful presence in your surroundings and senses.
Remember, you don’t need to exert yourself significantly if you’re going tree bathing. The point is not to break a massive sweat or even increase your heart rate. All you have to do is be amongst greenery and bask in it with your focus and enjoyment. You should also leave your devices behind if you can, enjoying nature without technology. It’s an excellent exercise for people of all kinds. Those who want a breather, those with limited mobility, and those who want to explore!
Of course, the mental health benefits of tree bathing only go so far. If you’re severely struggling with your mental health, you shouldn’t rely on forest bathing as a method for “treatment” of your symptoms. This is especially true if your mental health issues are starting to affect your everyday life. It would be best if you spoke to a mental health professional for help. Indeed, tree bathing is excellent as a treatment supplement but can’t replace medical care.
The bottom line is this: tree bathing works! It’s a fantastic tool for managing mental health, handling all sorts of negative emotions, and boosting positive thinking. If you’ve never tried it before, there’s no time to start like the present! Bring some friends or family along, or enjoy solitude as you head out into the great outdoors.