Australian sustainability professor Glenn Albrecht has created a whole lexicon of new words to describe the relationship between mental health and environment.
These include gems like the word ecoagnosy, a term created to describe environmental ignorance or indifference to the ecology. Then there’s solastalgia, the psychic pain of climate change and missing a home that’s transforming before your eyes and psychoterratic, the trauma caused by distance from nature.
Julia Plevin, author of the upcoming book The Healing Magic of Forest Bathing, suggests a treatment for this psychological malaise. It’s remarkably simple… if you live near a forest, especially. As Plevin puts it, we just need to “rewild” regularly, spending time outside, especially among trees. Walking in the woods and cultivating a connection with nature is her medicine, and sharing this therapy has become her mission.
What’s old is new again
Wood wandering as therapy began in Japan in 1982, when the government introduced the concept of shinrin yoku, or “forest bathing.” It urged citizens to make use of the country’s 3,000 wooded miles to improve their wellbeing. Tomohide Akiyama, then chief of the forestry ministry, understood intuitively that the woods do people good, while distance from nature makes us sick.
Soon, Japanese researchers tried to quantify this intuition, studying the healing effect of trees. They discovered that forest bathing not only feels good but it is also healing, physically, because it exposes people to the healthy essential oils that trees release, called phytoncides. These antimicrobial oils protect trees from germs and have a host of human health benefits, including boosting mood and immune system function; reducing blood pressure, heart rate, stress, anxiety, and confusion; improving sleep and creativity; and possibly fighting cancer and depression.
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