When you received your life-changing diagnosis, you probably also received a laundry list of medications and a complicated treatment plan. But was getting out in nature on that list?
The Japanese refer to it as ‘forest bathing’ – even the name sounds relaxing – and it has become a common prescription in Japan. Being surrounded by trees and immersed in a natural landscape has been shown to bring a raft of benefits, from reduced levels of stress hormones to lower blood pressure and improved immune function.
This is especially critical if you live in an urban environment (like the majority of the world’s population). City dwellers are known to be 40% more likely to suffer from mood disorders compared to people who live in rural areas, and those who were born and raised in cities are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.
When you’ve been diagnosed with a life-changing condition, these mental health benefits become vital in order to improve your wellbeing. It’s common to feel in shock, out of sorts and fearful after hearing your diagnosis. You may wonder how you’ll be able to cope with the journey you’re about to embark upon. But nature can help boost your resiliency, reduce your stress and improve your mood. It’s also free and easy to administer – at least that’s one prescription without any side effects.
Although ecotherapy, as it’s known, is most beneficial when a person is fully immersed in a natural landscape, just getting out in your garden for ten minutes will have a positive effect. If nature was a pharmaceutical drug, your local park would be paracetamol and being deep in the Swiss Alps would be a large dose of Prozac. Both are beneficial, but a regular dose is best.
While most of us don’t have access to the Alps at the drop of a hat, you might want to consider seeking out greenery wherever possible. Studies have shown that finding meaningful ways to engage with nature, through an emotional connection, for example, garners the best results and leads to a sense of vitality, life satisfaction and happiness – something none of us would refuse, even without a life-changing condition.
So on days when you feel like everything is getting on top of you, try stepping outside for a few minutes to improve your self-esteem and sense of wellbeing. If you can’t find the time to leave your desk, don’t worry. Just listening to the sounds of nature or looking at a natural screensaver on your computer have also been shown to have a positive effect.