There’s no doubt about it, 2018 is the year of woodland wonder. Justin Timberlake’s long-awaited fifth studio album, just out, is called Man of the Woods, Jo Malone’s divine new fragrance is ‘English Oak and Redcurrant’, and national treasure Dame Judi Dench is feeling foresty, making a BBC documentary called My Passion for Trees.
These sylvanian style makers are all on to something: the green scene is cool right now, and with good reason.
I’ve spent the last 12 months researching my book, Forest Therapy, and have been overwhelmed by the abundance of benefits in reconnecting with nature. As forest bathing becomes the self-care movement of the moment, Mother Nature is at last getting her moment in the sun-dappled spotlight for the mental, physical and spiritual gains we get – for free! – from her shady canopies.
Along with boosting immunity, creativity and helping you to live longer, there is overwhelming help given to your happiness from taking a walk in the woods. Research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology shows that being exposed to restorative environments such as a forest, lake or beach restores mental energy, and that natural beauty inspires feelings of awe which gives a secondary brain boost.
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Studies even prove how simply looking at pictures of nature increases our positive thinking, so think about switching the lock screen photo on your phone to a favourite nature photo from a recent holiday.
One study in Environmental Science and Technology found a link between decreased anxiety and bad moods with walking in the woods, while another reported that taking a walk outdoors should be prescribed by doctors as a supplement to existing treatments for depressive disorders.
The Journal of Affective Disorders released analysis that declared how every green, natural environment (not just forests!) improved mood and self-esteem, a crucial element for personal happiness, and that the presence of water – a lake, a river, the ocean – made the positive effects on happiness even more noticeable.
Researchers at the University of Essex studied people exercising outside and found just five minutes of physicality in a green space lifted spirits and self-confidence while physicians at the University of Exeter Medical School studied the health data of 10,000 people who lived in cities and found, after adjusting for income, education and employment, those living near a green space reported less mental distress.
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These are just some of the blissed-out brain benefits from forest therapy, there are countless more – even making you look younger and prettier, and become a nicer person, too. I always knew the release I felt when I blew away cobwebs from my self-obsessed brain or stepped into something greater than my own worries and insecurities, like a beautiful park or a turquoise ocean, was unquestionable. Now I have the science and statistics to back those feelings up.
So, step away from the screen, step out of your box (be it your house, your office, or your expensive gym) and find your nearest forests for a few deep breaths as soon as you can.
by Sarah Ivens is out on April 19th (Piatkus)