Nature As A Remedy for Stress
By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
You know the wave of peace and other positive feelings that wash over you when you spend time at the beach or taking a hike in the woods? There is science to explain why we feel so good when we are connected to nature! Today we’re going to take a look at how we can utilize the natural world around us to benefit our mood with techniques such as forest bathing and earthing.
Why Are We All So Stressed Out?
Our ancestors has a stress response that literally worked to keep them alive. The familiar fight-or-flight state was a crucial part of human evolution. But now in our modern day and age, there is a disconnect. We get a bad email or a bad text message, and our ancient wiring system puts us in a sympathetic state–the same state our primal ancestors would have been in upon coming across a hungry lion!
When we get stressed, our body thinks that there is imminent physical danger putting our survival at risk, and it acts in the same way as it would have in our hunter-gatherer ancestors. While technology and society have quickly advanced, biology evolves much slower.
Nature As A Stress Solution
Human beings evolved in contact with the earth, though in recent times we have lost this connection. We can give our body a “reset” by going out into nature and experiencing the healing effects of mother earth.
To forest bathe is simple: find a local forest or nature preserve and simply take a walk or a hike. Forest bathing is both an incredibly powerful and an incredibly simple way to calm and rejuvenate the body. Researchers in Japan have been studying “shinrin-yoku” as it is known overseas for quite some time. In fact, Japanese doctors will often prescribe forest bathing to their patients to heal from a wide variety of health problems!
Science-backed benefits of forest bathing include:
- Boosted immune system: Forest bathing has been shown to increase the number of natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell which plays a vital part in the immune system. NK cells are also major players in preventing tumors and killing viruses.
- Calming the nervous system: Studies show forest bathing reduces cortisol–the stress hormone–and increases heart rate variability (HRV). The higher your HRV score is, the healthier your nervous system is. Forest bathing’s ability to take us out of the stressful sympathetic state and put us into the calming parasympathetic state which improves mood, elevates calmness, and reduces blood pressure and stress.
- Improved self-confidence: Forest bathing increases blood flow in the brain in such a way that it calms an overactive mind, and prevents overthinking and self-conscious thoughts.
There is no need to run or hike strenuously for the benefits of forest bathing: simply walking at a leisurely pace, even stopping to sit and rest, is just fine. It is enough to just be present and allow the forest to bathe you with its healing powers.
Earthing, also called grounding, is a way of connecting to the earth, usually by being barefoot. Human beings are electric–we are made of atoms which either have a positive, neutral, or negative charge. Man-made electronics like wifi, microwaves, cell phones, and refrigerators can affect our electric field to the detriment of our health.
When we spend too much time indoors surrounded by artificial frequencies, it can cause inflammation, brain fog, sleep problems, and more. Chronic inflammation is often called the root of all modern disease. When our bodies have an injury, your body sends help to the site of the injury. When our body lacks electrons, the cells that are sent to clean up the injury release free radicals that have no choice but to steal electrons from healthy cells. This causes chronic inflammation that can eventually lead to autoimmune diseases and neurological degeneration.
By going outside barefoot, we can soak up free electrons from the earth which put an end to the cycle of inflammation. Earthing has been shown to expedite wound recovery, improve sleep, reduce PMS, lower cortisol, and regulate hormones.
You can get grounded by going outside barefoot, by using an earthing sheet to keep you grounded while you sleep, or by wearing earthing shoes that keep you in connection with the earth even when footwear is required.
Sometimes the missing component is much simpler than we would ever think. Technological advances have conditioned us to think each new gadget is going to help: that new app or fitness watch. But if we take a moment to turn inwards and acknowledge that our biology changes much slower than technology, we can benefit from ancestral health habits that have been keeping humans happy and healthy for thousands of years– and are completely free.