Tag: shinrin yoku

Vitamin N: Nature as a prescription for depression

Did you know that depression is the predominant mental health problem worldwide, closely followed by anxiety?¹

Depression is a common mental health disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest, inability to experience pleasure, hopelessness, isolation, restlessness and lack of energy, among many other symptoms. It affects how you feel, think and behave and impacts our emotional and physical health enormously.

Spending time in nature has many proven health benefits that we have known about for some time. However, as a society we seem to have largely forgotten about them. One of these many benefits includes alleviating feelings of depression and anxiety in adults and children. As a species, human beings have been deeply connected with nature throughout the ages for a variety of reasons: foraging for food, hunting, spirituality, and medicine, to name a few. Yet nowadays, as we immerse ourselves more and more in concrete jungles (busy cities), our ever demanding work schedules and electronic communications, over time we have lost touch with the deep calm and comfort that even a few hours spent in a green space provides.

From personal experience of challenges with mental health over the years, I highly recommend that if you are suffering from depression or anxiety, whether it has been a short or longer term issue, finding ways to spend more time outside will do you a world of good! I can say that with 100% confidence. Please remember that if you are suffering from severe mental health issues, working with trained mental health professionals is incredibly important as far as diagnosis, appropriate treatment and support is concerned.

My deep love of nature was inspired as a child from spending the summer holidays in the Lake District or the Highlands of Scotland: camping, roaming, climbing trees, fishing, building dens, and all sorts of childly shenanigans! I have always felt a calling towards returning to the outdoors when I feel down, lonely or stressed. Even sitting in the same spot or taking a slow walk for 20 minutes in a local park a few times a week, simply noticing what’s happening in the natural world around me, has a profound way of soothing the anxiety that our fast paced lives create. The best part being that Nature aka ‘Vitamin N’ is easy to do, and it’s free with no side effects! Miles better than a prescription of citalopram, if it can be avoided!

What I love about practicing Forest Therapy is that, not only do you benefit from the fresh air, connection with wildlife and calming the mind, you also have the opportunity to share the experience with others in a community setting. On a Forest Therapy walk we include brief meetings or “councils” where participants have the space and opportunity to share with the group about their experience. Many people never get the opportunity to share their experiences in nature with others, and the welcoming and witnessing of these stories, feelings and experiences can be deeply nurturing for individuals. Everything and everyone is welcome in the forest!

Forest Therapy walks are facilitated by certified Forest Therapy guides, like myself, who take the stress out of finding a location suitable for relaxation and inspiring nature connection. Your guide plans the route and ensures it is safe, and sets the ideal pace so that you can simply let go of all of your worries and find pleasure through connecting deeply with your different senses. Through ‘invitations’ your guide also suggests ways of interacting with nature that you might not immediately thought of. Each walk offers the space to reconnect with yourself, with the natural world and with your community. Social interaction and connecting with other people can provide important benefits for health and wellbeing. Social relationships, a sense of ‘belongingness’ or community, interaction and the support of family and friends are important for wellbeing and can also protect against becoming ill.²

So, however you wish to spend time in nature, I hope this brings some motivation and inspiration for self-care and falling in love with the outdoors! Remember – Vitamin N is a wonderful way of treating depression.

Caitlin x

1. Vos, T., Barber, RM., Bell, B., Bertozzi-Villa, A., Biruyukov, S., Bollinger, I., …Murray, CJ.. (2013). Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 301 acute and chronic diseases and injuries in 188 countries, 1990-2013: A systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease study. The Lancet, 386(9995), 743-800.

2. Tones K and Green K (2010). Health promotion: planning and
strategies, 2nd Edition. London: Sage.

Silence restores the brain

Noise. Everywhere. Noise. From the moment you wake up, to the moment your head hits your pillow after a long day. It’s almost impossible to escape without making a conscious effort. Many of us, probably subconsciously, never realise quite how much energy it requires just to receive the sounds around us and relay this information to our brains. Noises constantly informing us of our surroundings. External noise can get too much, but even once you’ve escaped the noise of the day, the aftermath can be the lingering of very loud internal noise. Mental fatigue sets in and your brain has become overwhelmed by a sea of information, stress levels running high.

A free and effective solution: silence.

Silence can rejuvenate a weary mind. According to the ‘attention restoration theory‘, the brain can restore its cognitive resources when our surroundings have lower levels of sensory input than we’re normally subjected to in our fast paced 21st century world. Now of course it depends on the type of sensory input; there’s a big difference between spending time in font of a computer all day, and being in the gentle quiet of the outdoors. This is where Shinrin-Yoku steps in and offers a helping hand. A Forest Therapy guide can help you to slow down in a quiet and mindful manner that allows your brain to reset, giving you the headspace to dream, to wander – ultimately improving  creativity, replenishing your energy levels, and giving you the room to visit thoughts and feelings in your own time when you are ready. It’s no real news that nature is good for your health. There are many powerful health benefits one can receive when in deep connection with nature.

To find out more on how silence benefits our brains, click here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/silence-brain-benefits_us_56d83967e4b0000de4037004



Forest trips help childhood asthma and allergies

Asthma and allergic diseases like atopic dermatitis – chronically itchy skin – are increasing in children who live in cities. Recently, a research paper (2015) provided evidence to support what forest therapy guides know – that the forest environment has beneficial health effects for participants with chronic diseases.

To find out about the favourable clinical and immunologic effects of forest, the study examined changes in the children’s symptoms before and after a short-term forest trip. The forest trips involved 21 children with asthma and 27 children with atopic dermatitis. All the children in the study were living in air-polluted, urban, inner-city areas. By measuring the children’s symptoms both before and after the trips, the study found out that short-term exposure to forest environment does appear to have beneficial clinical and immunological effects for these children with allergic diseases living in the urban community.

So this weekend, plan a family outing to a woodland or forest near you. The walk will literally do you good. And bring home a few beautiful small branches of pine trees to use as home fragrance, instead of commercial ‘home fragrance’ that is well-proven as an asthma and allergy trigger!

Read the full study to see which markers the study measured and the significance of the health improvements.

Forest Bathing in Winter

Shinrin Yoku is not just for Spring and Summer! Sometimes it’s in the middle of winter that we feel the most disconnected from nature. From inside looking out, the skies look grey, wet, cold and blustery so we don’t venture out. However, staying inside we deprive ourselves of light and fresh air and often sadness sets in. I heartily recommend wrapping up warm, putting on a pair of waterproof boots, a windproof and waterproof coat and getting outside for a walk, whatever the weather. Once in the woods or forest, the trees will shield you from the worst of the elements. There is a calm among the sleeping trees. Did you think all would be dead at this time of year? Look closely around you. There’s purslane and bittercress, two wild winter vegetables. And winter fungi – oyster mushrooms, velvet shanks and turkey tails. These little signs of new life encourage us to observe the earliest signs that spring will renew the earth, bringing hope and cheer to our spirit.

Caitlin Keddie, Forest Therapy Guide