I remember the last time I stepped into a forest. What a treat for my senses. My eyes were refreshingly greeted by the fall colours of green, red, and orange hues. The pine scent that filled the air allowed me to take deeper breaths than I had in weeks outside of nature. My body felt fully alive, and I felt an inner calm and peace that I had not experienced in weeks. The sound of the leaves rustling in the gentle breeze beckoned me to ground my feet into the soft earth underneath and each step I took tempted me to take another. This experience of being immersed in nature was healing and connected me to myself and the world around me.
The idea of connecting with nature and immersing oneself in the forest is not a novel idea. Let’s take a walk back in time. In Japan, the term shinrin-yoku was coined in the ’80s to describe the concept of ‘forest bathing’. In the history of Native American culture, nature is integral to human living. Through decades of industrialization and urbanization, the disconnect between humans and nature has grown and in highly urbanized countries and cities like Singapore, this delicate balance with nature has been constantly challenged. With the high usage of technology, screen time has permeated and persisted in much of our daily lives. There is growing research documenting the benefits and adverse effects of screentime on mental health, and, the reality is that technology and screentime are here to stay.
Stepping out into nature may not seem instinctive, but much can be gained through spending some time in nature. Increased exposure to nature may enrich one’s cognition, bringing about benefits such as enhanced attention, focus, and working memory. Other benefits that nature brings include boosting one’s mood and the reduction in mental distress, stress, and psychological conditions. As we feel better in our bodies, the probability that we offer kindness to others is increased, hence strengthening our interpersonal relationships.
The great news is that while we may not have easy access to a forest, we could start with tiny steps and build them up step-by-step. The greater the exposure to nature, the greater the benefits gained. Listening to sounds of nature such as the light fall of rain, thunderstorms, or a stream of water could lighten your heart. If you have a little garden, taking small steps while tending to your plants once a day may enliven your spirits. To step up your dose of nature, brisk walking for about 2.4 hours in nature could lower the risk of depression by 25 percent.
As Malik el Halabi says, “A walk in nature walks the soul back home.” Happy Nature Walking.
Fitzgerald, S. (2023). The secret to mindful travel? A walk in the woods. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/forest-bathing-nature-walk-health
Pearce, M., et al. (2022). Association between physical activity and risk of depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry, 79(6), 550–559.
Weir, K. (2020). Nurtured by nature. American Psychological Association, 51(3), 50. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature
Isabelle Ong, Ph.D., LCMHCA, NCC (USA)
Clinical Mental Health Counselor & Psychotherapist