Dr. Mukesh Kwatra, Founder Of Smiling Tree
In the prevailing situation of Pandemic, most are suffering from psychological distress with increased levels of anxiety, stress, depression, etc. It has deeply impacted the mental health of people which also suggests a troubled future. But it’s also true that humans’ ability to overcome adversity is often underestimated especially for the overwhelming majority who love to be with nature.
This is not to suggest that the impact of Covid-19 on mental health isn’t real, nor that it won’t be long-lasting in some cases. It is real, and it will linger for many. Nevertheless, it’s also important to underline that it’s healthily therapeutic for people who spend time amidst nature.
There is a Japanese practice of nature therapy – “forest bathing”. Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is simply spending time outdoors under the canopy of trees. In Japanese, “shinrin” means forest and “yoku” means bath, or immersing oneself in the forest and soaking in the atmosphere through the senses.
In one study, Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a nature-therapy expert, found that people who spent 40 minutes walking in a forest had lower levels of stress hormones. He claimed, “Spending time in the forest induces a state of physiologic relaxation.”
Another researcher, Dr. Qing Li, found that trees and plants emit aromatic compounds called phytoncides that, when inhaled, can spur healthy biological changes in a manner similar to aromatherapy, which has also been studied for its therapeutic benefits. Besides various recent studies have also linked nature to symptom relief for health issues like heart disease, depression, cancer, anxiety and attention disorders.
Love for nature is something that is deeply inherent in all of us. We, as humans, are part of the ecosystem and nature as much as plants & animals are. No matter how many concrete jungles we create in cities, we are likely to get “naturally” happy in the surroundings of plants and trees.
Exposure to nature, or even just merely observing it, helps us in reducing anger, anxiety and stress. The impact of our brush with nature is not only emotional but physical and neurological as well. The experts call our innate tendency to connect to plants as Biophilia, while I call it our ‘unconditional love for nature’ in my layman’s lexicon.
Even for mood disorders it’s beneficial to spend more time in nature: There are numerous situations when we have a strong urge to relax in the lap of greens. For instance, when we are battling with a dilemma of taking a key decision, we are often advised to go for a stroll in a garden before we jump the gun.
Similarly, after heavy rainfall, when we want to experience the pleasant dewy petrichor in the air, and enjoy the pristine hues, we find a reason to have our tryst with nature. Even when we are stressed or anxious, we get an urge to step out of our brick and mortar houses and walk towards a quiet place that is invariably green.
Nature helps us to connect with each other: When we see the beautiful natural scenery, sense of empathy and love lits up in our brain, but when we see only walls or buildings around as is during the lockdowns enforced, we are bound to be tensed up with fear and anxiety.
So whenever feasible, be amidst nature. Count the birds, listen to the breeze, spot the leaves of the trees, beautiful flowers, or just take a moment to inhale the fresh air in the muted atmosphere. Reconnect with the clouds as kids do, make shapes from them. It can instantly put life into perspective.
Even if we can’t get outside, try to bring the outside in. Draw up a chair by a window and observe nature, feel the breeze. Close your eyes and try to listen to some relaxing nature sounds like soothing birds singing, natural sound of water.
Nature is indeed the best therapist!