Stress is a part of everyday life. But too much stress can take a toll on your mind and body. Feeling stressed for long periods of time can lead to depression, increased anxiety, and even physical symptoms, like body aches. One simple way to manage stress? Spending time in nature — or forest bathing.
What is forest bathing?
In 1982, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries created the term shinrin-yoku, which translates to “forest bathing” or “absorbing the forest atmosphere.” The practice encourages people to simply spend time in nature — no actual bathing required. It’s also very low impact, which means you don’t have to go for intense trail runs or hikes. The goal of forest bathing is to live in the present moment while immersing your senses in the sights and sounds of a natural setting.
The health benefits of forest bathing
There’s a reason why the largest cities in the world have parks, trees, and pockets of nature woven throughout their busy streets. One study by the International Journal of Environmental Health Research found that spending time in an urban park can have a positive impact on a person’s sense of well-being.1
Aside from city parks, the more in-depth practice of forest bathing has been found to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of harmful hormones — like cortisol, which your body produces when it’s stressed.2 This can help put you in a more calm and relaxed state.
In addition, studies have found that simply spending 10 to 20 minutes a day outdoors can lead to increased well-being and happiness — and decreased amounts of stress.3,4
How to practice forest bathing
While the word “forest” is in the name of this practice, don’t worry — heading out to a heavily wooded area isn’t required. You could take a trip to a nearby park, your favorite local trail, the beach, or any natural setting. Just be sure to turn off or silence your phone or other devices. The key is to practice mindfulness. That means being present and fully in the moment.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, take a few deep breaths and center yourself. Focus on what your senses are taking in — whether it’s the scent of clean ocean air or a chorus of chirping birds.
Spend a few moments simply observing your surroundings. Sit and watch how the trees sway in the wind or simply walk around. If you decide to walk, go at a leisurely pace and without a specific destination in mind. It’s important to let your mind and senses explore and indulge.
Safety tip: Always pay attention to your surroundings, stay on marked trails, and wear appropriate gear. Remember to consider things like sun protection and allergies. When possible, bring a friend or let someone know where you’re going and for how long.
A good rule of thumb is to practice forest bathing for at least 20 minutes every day. If you don’t have that much time to spare, that’s OK. You can start with a shorter amount of time. Plus, the goal of forest bathing is to relax and detach — the practice shouldn’t feel like a chore. It should be an activity you look forward to and enjoy.
Look for moments of wonder
No matter how much time you spend outdoors, remember to look for moments that make you feel amazement — or awe. One study found that taking “awe walks” led to increased feelings of well-being and social connection in older adults.5 You can make awe walks a part of your forest bathing practice by looking at your surroundings with fresh eyes or taking a new walking path.
You could also tie your forest bathing practice to your journaling routine. After each session, use your journal to keep track of your experience or thoughts you had while immersed in nature. This is a good way to keep track of how the practice is making you feel over time — and help you create a routine to support your total health.
1Hon K. Yuen and Gavin R. Jenkins, “Factors Associated With Changes in Subjective Well-Being Immediately After Urban Park Visit,” International Journal of Environmental Health Research, February 13, 2019.
2Bum Jin Park et al., “The Physiological Effects of Shinrin-yoku (Taking in the Forest Atmosphere or Forest Bathing): Evidence from Field Experiments in 24 Forests Across Japan,” Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, May 2, 2009.
3Genevive R. Meredith et al., “Minimum Time Dose in Nature to Positively Impact the Mental Health of College-Aged Students, and How to Measure It: A Scoping Review,” Frontiers in Psychology, June 13, 2019.
4Matthew P. White et al., “Spending at Least 120 Minutes a Week in Nature is Associated with Good Health and Wellbeing,” Scientific Reports, January 14, 2020.
5Gretchen Reynolds, “An ‘Awe Walk’ Might Do Wonders for Your Well-Being,” The New York Times, September 30, 2020.