It’s been a long week. Pressures at work are ramping up with challenging deadlines and expectations. A serious health issue has arisen within your immediate family. That frequent low-level headache centered between your eyes has become nearly constant. To top it off, you paid way too much for a disfiguring haircut that made your dog bark at you when you got home.
Here's the remedy.
Walk into the forest, look around, listen and breathe.
Shall I explain that again? Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it. It’s not, this actually works.
Here’s the science.
The therapy we are suggesting here is known as forest bathing. Certainly, the practice of gaining mental relief from lingering in nature has been practiced for millennia, but it has experienced a revitalization in recent years. Most of the world’s population (55%) is now in urban areas. Tokyo, Japan, with its 37 million residents, is the most populous city in the world. It was here that the idea of forest bathing as a recommended therapy was introduced by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in the 1980s. It became popular among people in other Far Eastern countries like China and Korea and there are now forest therapy programs throughout the world.
Those in the research community have delved into the effects of forest bathing and have produced some impressive findings. That wonderful smell from the forest is an important part of the therapy. Trees emit substances that have been dubbed “phytoncides.” These compounds are believed to have properties that induce relaxation and quell mental fatigue. Cognitive performance and mood may also improve just from breathing deeply of the air in forested areas.
It’s nice of the trees to share phytoncides with us. The trees need them to discourage bugs, bacteria, and disease. By emitting the phytoncides the tree envelopes itself in a protective atmosphere that we get to enjoy as well. You may have heard of some of the more common compounds produced by trees. Pinene, limonene, and camphene are three of the most prevalent essential oils trees use for self-protection.
For humans these chemicals contribute meaningful benefits. Here is a listing of just a few:
· Analgesic (relieves pain)
There are thousands of phytoncides emanating from trees, we still have much more to learn about them. One thing we do know is they smell really nice. Next time you are in the forest take a moment to get close to a tree branch and smell the needles or break just one to two open and smell that clean natural scent. If you happen to stumble across some lemon balm or mint as you walk, grab a few leaves and make a wad and smell it. Then stuff it in your pocket and periodically take the wad out and sniff that relaxing aroma as you hike.
One of my favorite authors, Ellen White, whom I have often thought was well ahead of her time, identified the benefits that balsam trees produce when she wrote in the year 1905. What she says is backed up by the science of today. “How grateful to weary invalids accustomed to city life, the glare of many lights, and the noise of the streets are the quiet and freedom of the country! How eagerly do they turn to the scenes of nature! … sit in the open air, rejoice in the sunshine, and breathe the fragrance of tree and flower! There are life-giving properties in the balsam of the pine, in the fragrance of the cedar and the fir.” 
When we face a scenario like the one presented at the beginning of this article, we experience stress. The circumstances are the stressors and we too often respond with negative emotions. If harmful thoughts and beliefs become habitual, it may even progress to depression and anxiety. Can simply spending time walking or being active in the forest alleviate these things? Investigations indicate that it definitely can help. 
Cortisol is a well-known biomarker of stress. This simply means that under conditions of stress cortisol will be elevated within the body's circulation. An easy way to test just how much cortisol is circulating is through testing saliva. In controlled studies, participation in forest bathing significantly decreases salivary cortisol. The soothing effect of nature and the forest reduces stress. 
All Five Senses
One thing that investigations have revealed about forest bathing is the need for all five senses to be involved. Take time to touch the plants, the stones, the water as you absorb the healing balm of the forest. Stop next to that rushing waterfall and feel the mist on your skin. Put your hands on the immense tree and feel its sturdiness.
Listen to the wind in the trees, the songs of the birds, and the babble of the brook.
Look at the intricacies of the tiny wild flower and then up at the massive snowy peak as it looms impressively on the horizon. If at all possible, plan your forest excursion so that a sense of awe can be experienced. Experiencing things so much bigger than ourselves helps us with perspective. When awe-inspiring sights are encountered our bodies react in an interesting way. Inflammatory cytokines are reduced which is good since they are associated with mood disturbances like depression.
Forest adventures may also help with vitality. This is defined as having physical and mental energy that can be harnessed or regulated for purposeful actions. Show someone pictures of buildings and vitality remains flat. Show them beautiful nature scenes and vitality gets a boost.
Make a Plan
Odds are there is an aromatic forest somewhere close-by waiting for you. Why not make a plan to visit it and give stress a little kick in the backside. Remember to bring water, extra clothing, a camera, and some food to tide you over. Don’t be in a rush to get out and back. Take time to enjoy the experience, you don’t have to set any time records on the trail to garner the many benefits of a forest adventure. The memory of the sweet smell of the forest and the good effects it has on your body will remain with you for weeks, but don’t pass up any opportunities to visit the forest as often as possible.
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 Stier-Jarmer, M., Throner, V., et al. (2021). The Psychological and Physical Effects of Forests on Human Health: A Systematic Review of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(4), 1770.
 Kuo M. (2015). How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 1093.
 Antonelli, M., Donelli, D., et al. (2020). Forest Volatile Organic Compounds and Their Effects on Human Health: A State-of-the-Art Review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(18), 6506.
 StarBasil. (2020). Phytoncides: The science behind Forest Bathing Benefits. Forest Bathing Central. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from https://forestbathingcentral.com/phytoncides/
 White, E. G. (1905) The Ministry of Healing. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association. P. 264.
 Antonelli, M., Barbieri, G., & Donelli, D. (2019). Effects of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) on levels of cortisol as a stress biomarker: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International journal of biometeorology, 63(8), 1117–1134.
 Ryan, R. M., & Weinstein, N. et al. (2010). Vitalizing effects of being outdoors and in nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30(2), 159–168.
About the author
Nathan Hyde holds a BS in Biology from Central Washington University. He worked for 15 years in environmental testing and eight years in fisheries with both federal and state agencies. Nathan currently works for Nedley Health as a researcher, writer, and editor, as well as in various capacities during the residential Nedley Depression & Anxiety Recovery Program™. When Nathan isn’t working, he enjoys gardening, working with stone, and helping people understand God’s true character.