What is “forest bathing?” It could change your mental health for the better

We’ll be the first to admit that we don’t go outside enough. And we’re certainly not alone: According to the National Human Activity Pattern Survey, an average adult only spends about 5% of each day outdoors. But all that time spent indoors means we’re missing out on a potentially life-changing activity that could improve our mental health. It’s called “forest bathing,” and don’t worry — it’s not as scandalous as it sounds.

Forest bathing is a wellness practice with origins in Japan and South Korea (it’s called shinrin-yoku in Japanese). Fortunately for those of us with busy lives, it’s a beautifully simple idea. To partake in forest bathing, all you have to do is go outside, walk into a quiet forest, and surround yourself with trees to help restore and soothe your stressed mind. Dr. Frank Lipman, an integrative medicine specialist and author of How to be Well, talked to HelloGiggles about how forest bathing works, and how everyone can benefit from it.

First, forest bathing is a mental cleansing process, not a physical one. Dr. Lipman says that surrounding oneself with nature for a short period of time on a weekly or, even better, a daily basis can positively impact one’s mental state.

"Being fully present in nature puts you in a state of pleasure and relaxation, which turns on your parasympathetic nervous system," Dr. Lipman told us. "You remain aware, but with a more soft focus that is less information-loaded and more calm and peaceful."

What’s more, Dr. Lipman said that nature can boost serotonin levels, thereby enhancing a person’s empathy and altruism. When outside and surrounded by greenery, you’re proven to feel more “compassionate, connected, and serene,” according to Dr. Lipman.

Forest bathing is a “low-cost and effective way” to better your mood and mental clarity, Dr. Lipman added. And you don’t necessarily have to live near an undeveloped forest to reap the benefits of the practice.

According to Dr. Lipman, for city-dwellers, parks and botanical gardens can be just as rejuvenating as strolling through the woods. Getting into the green for a short amount of time, a few days a week, can prove to be a refreshing way to shed anxieties caused by work and the chaos of day-to-day life.

So the next time you’re feeling frustrated or tapped out, dip your toes into a sea of green. Forest bathing might be the stress relief solution that’s been sitting in front of us all along.

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