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The Use of Nature Bathing for Depression

The practice of nature or forest bathing comes from an ancient Japanese practice known as shinrin yoku. The literal translation of this is “observing the forest’s atmosphere with all your senses”. Basically what this means is it’s a relaxation practice that takes place in the forests where you spend time observing and immersing yourself in nature. Personally, I think it’s a great way for you to engage in some self-care, and I hope after reading this, you’ll agree and head out to see some beautiful nature!

Benefits of Nature Bathing on Those with Depression

There have been many different studies over the years showing the benefits of exposure to nature on mental and physical health. Some of the benefits include: improved cognitive function, increased brain activity, improved blood pressure, boost your immune system,  increased physical health, and improved sleep. Nature can help people to feel calmer, more joyful, and more creative. It can improve concentration, and reduce stress, anxiety, and anger. Some studies suggest that the positive effects of nature are more pronounced with increased exposure. Remarkably, some trees also release a substance called D-limonene, which may decrease inflammation in your body.  When it comes to depression, walks in nature have been found to decrease symptoms of clinical depression and improve your mood. Even exposure to nature in a virtual environment has shown improvements in depressive symptoms. So what exactly is nature or forest bathing?

What is Nature Bathing?

Forest bathing is at its most basic a way of relaxing through being in and observing nature in a quiet way. It is a method of reconnecting with nature much as our ancestors once did. You don’t need any special equipment or special skills in order to indulge in it, just bring yourself to some small area of nature and allow yourself to observe what’s going on around you. You don't even need a large area in nature, a small park or yard will do just as well. For best effects, try to engage all of your senses as much as possible as this will bring you deeper into the experience. Read on for some tips on how to nature bath

Tips to Nature Bathe

1.     Find some nature. Traditionally, nature bathing takes place in a forest, but really any little corner of nature can work. Think of your backyard, a park, the beach, a nature trail, or a wooded area. Here in Michigan, we are lucky to have many parks and lakes to choose from. Some of my favorites include Belle Isle, Seven Lakes State Park, Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Hartwick Pines State Park, Palms Book State Park, Mackinac Island, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, or pretty much anywhere along the coast of Lake Michigan.

2.     Turn off your phone. Or better yet, leave it at home. Technology will only distract you from what’s going on around you and as we know, tends to increase anxiety in people. Nature bathing is at it’s essence a mindfulness activity so you’ll want to stay in the moment and limit distractions.

3.     Slow down. Take your time walking through your chosen nature area. This isn’t a race. Take time to appreciate what’s around you. Stop and stand or take a seat for a while. Make sure that you have allowed yourself plenty of time to do so!

4.     Take some nice deep breaths and relax into it. This is a great time for your deep breathing practice.

5.     Try to take in your surroundings using all of your senses. Look around- what do you see? What are the colors, textures, shapes? Are there any noises that you can hear?  Do you feel anything? Is it warm or cool? Is there a breeze? Can you feel the surface under your feet?

6.     Let yourself wander. Don’t set any goals for yourself while nature bathing. Just allow yourself to stay in the moment and your mind to stay in the moment. Feel free to wander wherever the wind takes you.

7.     Go alone, or if you’re with friends, try to talk as little as possible. The quiet will definitely help you to experience nature on a deeper level. You can share your experiences with each other once you are done.

Closing Thoughts

Nature or forest bathing can be a great and relaxing mindfulness activity. Studies have shown repeatedly that exposure to nature and walking in nature can improve your mood, and decrease symptoms of depression. If you’ve been feeling depressed, spending some time in nature might be just what the doctor ordered. And if you find you need more help and would like to talk with someone about depression treatment, please follow the link for more information.

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