Why You Need to Get Lost in a Forest - for Your Health

Get outside and... thrive?

Woman Walking in the Forest

Earlier this year I decided to pursue mental and emotional health through natural stress-relieving practices that were scientifically proven to help with anxiety and panic.

Over the last few months, I have introduced a variety of stress-relieving practices into my weekly routine, including meditation, journaling, reading, gratitude, and regular exercise. These practises have not freed me from anxiety, but they have worked well, when coupled with medication, to manage my day-to-day stress.

One stress-relieving and immune-boosting practise that I have come across through my research is a Japanese practise called Shinrin-Yoku, which roughly translates into “forest bathing.” The concept of forest bathing is simple: you go into a forest or natural area, and you take in the atmosphere, allowing yourself to calmly and peacefully relax.

There is a growing body of evidence and scholarly literature that points to the benefits of regular outdoor experiences. The Medical University of Vienna conducted a study in 2014 that compiled data related to the physiological effects of experiencing nature in the outdoors. The results showed that there is a pronounced positive physiological effect when time is spent in nature, but there is still much research needed in this area.

I decided to conduct my own personal experiment, and committed to spending time in nature daily for two weeks. I knew that trying to walk in a forest every single day would be difficult, especially as a mother of three kids ages six and under. I did believe that I could create daily space to be in the outdoors, surrounded by trees, nature, and at times, a thick forest. Some days I was able to go outside by myself, and other days my kids came with me.

The purpose of my experiment was to get outside in a natural area, and to be mindful of my surroundings while outside. I noticed the smell of the earth and the trees, and the crunch of my feet while walking. I listened intently, and heard the sounds of birds, or trees swaying in the wind. I paid special attention to the different types of trees and flowers that I came across. Sometimes I bent down and picked up a shiny rock or a stick, knowing that my kids would love to play with them back home.

Through my two week forest bathing experiment I discovered a playful side of myself that had been dormant. I experienced child-like wonder again, amazed by the trees that took root long before I was born. I started to become curious about bird songs, and began to identify the different birds that I could hear. I was excited when I came across something new - a tree I didn’t recognize, or a beautiful flower.

I started to notice nature in places I didn’t before. I appreciated the looming trees that shade our backyard, and the country roads that I drove down often. I craved nature more, itching to get outside and feel the warm sun on my skin and the hear the songs of different birds.

I noticed that my mood shifted when I was outside, and immediately after my time outdoors. I paid special attention to my mood and my patience, but I admit that the effects of my time outdoors did eventually wear off. I still grew short with my kids at night, when we were all cranky and tired. I still struggled with insomnia and panic at times, but I did find that once I felt panicked, a quick walk outdoors diffused my stress quickly.

Like all of the practises I have embarked on this year, my forest bathing experiment became a source of joy, comfort, and peace. But it wasn’t a fix-all approach to my life. I didn’t become a zen master just because I walked among the trees every day, and I still yelled at my kids even though I had calmly appreciated nature hours before.

Now that my Forest Bathing experiment is over, I am happy to add time spent outdoors into my stress-busting toolbox. It’s an easy, free, and simple tool to combat anxiety and find peace and quiet as a busy mom and entrepreneur. Not only was it beneficial for me, but I also saw the benefits in my kids, who loved to be outside and explore with me, and didn't want our experiment to end.

The biggest effect I experienced from my time in the forest was a renewed interest in the outdoors, and a longing to be outside, among the trees, once more.



Brianna Bell is a writer and journalist based out of Guelph, Ontario. She has written for many online and print publications, including Scary Mommy, The Penny Hoarder, and The Globe & Mail. 

Brianna's budget-savvy ways has attracted media attention, and led to newspaper coverage in The Globe & Mail and The Guelph Mercury. In April 2016 Brianna will be featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less, alongside co-writer Brooke Burke. You can find Brianna's website at Brianna Bell Writes.