Hugging trees is part of the Japanese nature therapy “forest bathing”.
Spending time in nature mindfully is a surprisingly well-researched measure of dealing with everyday stress. This preventive measure is also known as “forest bathing”, a wellness trend. You literally plunge into a forest rather than just walk around. Hugging trees is a special type of forest bathing where connecting with nature is as close as it sounds.
Stressed out Germany
Stress can catch you anywhere: at work, at school, and of course in your personal life. Since the outbreak of the Corona pandemic, stress levels in Germany have been rising steadily. According to health insurance companies, families with children were particularly stressed by daycare and school closures during the lockdown periods (59 percent). This is evident, among other things, from key findings of a Forsa survey on people’s stress as a result of the Corona pandemic, which was commissioned by the Techniker Krankenkasse (TK) in May 2020 and March 2021 respectively.
However, there are ways to break free from stress traps: Hugging trees – or making careful contact with nature – is a good and proven method to cope with stress. But how is this even possible?
What exactly is stress?
To comprehend how nature can reduce our stress levels, it is useful to understand how negative stress actually develops.
Stress is primarily an emotional or physical reaction to a period of strain. This can include constant pressure to perform at work, or it can be an acute, dangerous situation that stresses you out. As soon as we are in a stressful situation, our amygdala becomes active. The amygdala is a part of the limbic system, which is a collection of brain areas that control our emotions. When the amygdala becomes active, adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol are released into your brain. As a result, your body tries to alert you so that, in a stressful situation, you can react more efficiently. If there is no stress relief, a permanent stress load may develop. And that in turn could have long-term negative consequences. The symptoms of constant stress can range from high blood sugar levels to depression.
So it’s important: Those who cannot avoid unhealthy stress need to find a balance.
“Terpenes (…) promote the activity of those natural killer cells in the human body that fight viruses and (potential) cancer cells.”
Clemens G. Arvay, author of “The Biophilia Effect – Healing from the Forest”
Lower stress levels by spending time in nature
Contact with nature is one measure for balancing and effectively reducing stress. Most of us are soothed in particular by the earthy smell of the forest and the chirping of birds. Here, the numerous sensory impressions we receive play a significant role. According to a study published by the University of Michigan, spending just 20 minutes outside can help reduce the stress hormone cortisol.
Another way to relieve stress is by hugging trees. When we hug trees, we especially feel and touch the tree bark. These contain terpenes, plant messengers that are thought to boost our immune system and even have a preventive effect against cancer.
Clemens G. Arvay, the author of “The Biophilia Effect – Healing from the Forest” writes that “terpenes (…)promote the activity of those natural killer cells in the human body that remove viruses and fight cancer cells and potential cancer cells”. In interpreting the findings, the Austrian biologist also draws on research from Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School. In his work, he explains the connection between nature and health.
However, according to Aryay, people can easily benefit from the smell of terpenes, if we spend time in the forest and simply surround ourselves with the fragrant forest air. If you don’t want to hug trees, a simple walk or picnic in the woods can be beneficial.
Today, staying mindfully in green spaces surrounded by trees has evolved into a wellness trend. This is known as “forest bathing” and originated in Japan.
“Forest bathing has a purely preventive effect, so it is a measure of general health care.”
Gisela Immich, research assistant at the Chair of Public Health and Health Care Research at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich
“Forest bathing”-just a trend for eco-freaks?
In Japan, “forest bathing” or “Shinrin Yoku” is a well-established nature therapy which was created back in 1982. As it is commonly said in Far Eastern cultures, it is fundamental to take in your environment mindfully. And, as previously stated, a short stay in the woods surrounded by as many trees as possible can be enough.
Much of the knowledge about forest bathing comes from the universities in Japan, where “forest medicine” is a recognized research field. Direct tree-hugging or ample meditation in the forest are more intensive types of “forest bathing” that are becoming increasingly popular in Europe. However, you can always choose how long you would like to “bath” in the woods based on your needs.
Proven positive effects such as lowering blood pressure are encouraging more and more doctors to for example prescribe so-called forest therapies against burnout on prescription. Gisela Immich, a research assistant at the department of public health and health services research at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, emphasizes, however, that forest bathing is primarily preventive, i.e. a measure of general health care.
That speaks for itself.
Forest bathing is already included in Germany’s “Lübeck Model Movement Worlds” a program for elderly people who are mentally or physically disabled. Health insurance companies do not cover the costs of forest bathing because it is still not recognized as a form of therapy. There are already many providers offering relaxing forest stays and guided tours. Forest training is offered, for example by Michael Dalchow or the German Academy for Forest Bathing and Health. In addition, you can also do forest bathing in the Hamburg area or Hessen.
Set up indoor plants at home as an alternative to hugging trees
If you don’t have time or energy to go on regular nature excursions, you can instead fill your home with as many indoor plants as possible.
Even the green of a single houseplant can have an initial calming effect on you. In addition, certain houseplants can improve indoor air quality by filtering pollutants from the air.
Moreover, some plants boost the oxygen level of our indoor air. This can even increase our mood and help us to be in a better emotional state more often. Thus, similar to trees, we breathe in substances that boost our immune system. So indoor plants can lead you to a positive upward spiral. And by the way: The urban jungle at home is also quite popular right now.
You can find a list of suitable houseplants here.
But one thing for certain: Health is the cornerstone on which all other life goals are built. Anyone who is regularly exposed to unpleasant stress might find a simple and effective way to relieve stress symptoms by spending time in nature or with the help of indoor plants. The power of nature makes us strong against diseases.
Let’s take advantage of that!