Did you know, that compared to 1980, we cram in an extra 4.4 hours per day of information consumption outside of work?
Think about it.
How much time do you spend on your computer or smartphone “Googling” or checking up on one of your favorite friends or actors on Facebook?
Our brain is actually wired to seek information, and when we get that information, reward circuits in our brain are turned on to give us pleasant feelings, which we can become addicted to, always needing to go back for more. The lure of instant screen-based information can be over-powering, just like the lure of the donuts sitting in the break room. The next thing you know, perusing the information highway on your smart phone or computer, displaces health-promoting activities – exercise, meaningful social interaction, healthy eating, or even getting appropriate amounts of sleep—causing you and your body to be more stressed and often sick.1
The good news is that you can counteract these negative effects by getting out in nature, the very place you are staying away from because your head is consumed by screen time.
Gardening, walking, or resting while lying on the ground is all it takes to access the benefits. Indeed, Japanese researchers have found that engaging in Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, for 20 minutes has the effect of reducing stress hormones and improving the immune system.2 3
What does forest bathing entail?
It involves bathing all your senses in the wonders of nature—experiencing the present moment while engaging your senses to take in the sounds, sights, smells, tastes or textile feel of nature.
This form of sensory engagement in the present moment is really a form of mindfulness, a meditation practice that involves being in a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, sensations, and feelings, as well as of the surrounding environment.
The practice of mindfulness has many physical, psychological and social benefits, like invigorating the immune system, improving positive emotions, reducing the effects of stress, and alleviating depression.4
Other studies have shown that mindfulness can help tune out distraction and enable better focus and memory.5
You now have the added benefit of accessing nature’s healing gifts, which add to improved wellbeing. Some experimental studies, for instance, have shown that phytoncides produced by trees can lower the production of cortisol, a stress hormone, lower anxiety and improve blood pressure.6
How do you these phytoncides get access to your body? Through your nasal passages. You smell them!
You can enjoy the colors, the sounds or the smells and in so doing, you turn off your thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow and end up engaging in the now. As you enjoy your experience, those reward circuits in your brain will be stimulated, enabling you to feel physically good.
Let 20 minutes go by, and you will may decide that you feel so good, you want to go back for more.
1. Misra S, Stokols D. Psychological and health outcomes of perceived information overload. Environ Behav 2012 In Press.
3. Park, BJ., Tsunetsugu, Y., Miyazaki, Y. The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku: evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, January 2010, 15(1): 18-28.
4. Praissman, S. Mindfulness-based stress reduction: A literature review and clinician’s guide. Journal of Academic Nursing Practitioners, April 2008, 20(4): 212-6.
5. Fadel, Z., Johnson, SK., Diamon, BJ., Zhanna, D., Goolkasian, P. Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, June 2010, 19(2): 597-605.
6. Kawakami, K., Kawamoto, M., Nomura, M., Otani, H., Nabika, T., Gonda, T. Effects of phytoncides on blood pressure under restraint stress in SHRSP. Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology, December 2004, Suppl 2: S27-8.