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Forest Therapy Benefits: From the comfort of your living room?

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

It is scientifically acknowledged that spending time outdoors in a natural setting improves health. But what if you can't access outdoor natural spaces on a regular basis? Research shows that there are many things you can do to simulate a natural environment from your home, workspace, or even car. Not surprisingly, these are related to stimulation of the human senses:

  1. Smell:

Not a believer in the value of essential oils? This might be the time to try. Studies show not only decrease in depressive symptoms comparable to medication, but also an increase in natural "NK" or, cancer-fighting cells, as well as significantly lowered anxiety scores in preoperative patients from the inhalation of therapeutic essential oils.

An easy way to do this is to get small ceramic diffuser plates that are easily kept (or hung) in and around your home, office, or car. Next, choose a few essential oils - my current favourite is a "woodlands" blend, which likely releases phytoncides from the trees included (spruce, fir, cedarwood, sandalwood, patchouli, oak moss). Add a few drops a few times a day, or when you feel like you need a boost, and voila!

2. Sound:

Think you are accustomed to blocking out "white noise," or used to those city sirens blaring? Think again! Research shows that the human body registers a baseline of stress when the mind is constantly "tuning out" sound stimulation from artificial, or urban, environments. The good news? Natural sound can be used to turn on the bodies parasympathetic nervous system, stimulating digestion and healing. "Alexa," turn on "nature sounds," is all you need to say!

3. Sight:

Like flowers and window views? Good! Science says simply having natural items available to see is good for us. Paying a bit extra for that window view, or picking up some flowers for your office can pay off more than you think. Research demonstrates that gazing upon natural patterns, or fractals, found in nature (think pinecone, rose petals, tree branches) or having trees outside a window view (vs bricks), can reduce pain as well as induce a state of wakeful relaxation.

If that's not enough, additional studies also show that simply having flowers or trees visible can increase feelings of generosity and kindness towards others and decrease feelings of entitlement.

4. Touch:

So, this one requires some effort ... taking off your shoes and opening the door! We have all heard of electricity, but likely not many of us have considered its implications to our health. Research now shoes us that walking barefoot on the Earth's surface can produce positive effects including sleep regulation, reduction of stress, reduction of pain, and improved general feelings of wellbeing. These effects are achieved through what is called "grounding," or the interaction with negative ions, which produces an effect similar to that of antioxidants in the body. This effect is created by walking on any natural surface - grass, dirt, rocks, and/or swimming or walking in water. Easy! Besides, how good does it feel to squish your toes in cool mud on a hot day, or feel fresh spring grass beneath your feet - now you have an excuse!

Time to try them out!

Full References:

Li, Q., Kobayashi, M., Wakayama, Y., Inagaki, H., Katsumata, M., Hirata, Y., … Miyazaki, Y. (2009). Effect of Phytoncide from Trees on Human Natural Killer Cell Function. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, 951–959.

Murphy, Allison E. et al. (2022). The Use of Therapeutic Inhaled Essential Oils (TIEO) as a Holistic Approach to Decrease Preoperative Anxiety in ERAS Gynecological Surgery. Journal of PeriAnesthesia Nursing.

Gould van Praag, C., Garfinkel, S., Sparasci, O., Mees, A., Philippides, A., Ware, M., Ottaviani, C., & Critchley, H. (2017). Mind-wandering and alterations to default mode network connectivity when listening to naturalistic versus artificial sounds. Scientific Reports, 7.

Hägerhäll, Caroline & Laike, Thorbjörn & Kuller, M & Marcheschi, Elizabeth & Boydston, C & Taylor, Richard. (2015). Human Physiological Benefits of Viewing Nature: EEG Responses to Exact and Statistical Fractal Patterns. Nonlinear dynamics, psychology, and life sciences. 19. 1-12.

Ulrich, R.S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224, 420-21.

Piff, P., Feinberg, M., Dietze, P., Stancato, D., & Keltner, D. (2015). Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(6), 883-899.

Guéguen N, Stefan J. “Green Altruism”: Short Immersion in Natural Green Environments and Helping Behavior. Environment and Behavior. 2016;48(2):324-342. doi:10.1177/0013916514536576

Chevalier, G., Sinatra, S. T., Oschman, J. L., Sokal, K., & Sokal, P. (2012). Earthing: health implications of reconnecting the human body to the Earth's surface electrons. Journal of environmental and public health, 2012, 291541.

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