Forest bathing on lockdown
Last week I felt so angry, helpless and anxious that I found myself sobbing. The day before I shouted at an estate agent from my window, and the day before that I felt like we were going to enter utopia after all this is over. The truth was, the horror of what was unfolding was hitting me in waves and these waves were hitting harder than anything I had ever experienced before.
I have experienced hardship, grief and illness on many occasions. So, I knew something of the process I was going through. I knew it was a lot like grief with all the same stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. I know the quicker I can got to acceptance, the quicker I can get on and deal with whatever comes my way.
For this particular endurance race I am lucky as I am not alone – you are too. If you have even one friend you can pick up the phone and talk immediately to someone else going through the same thing. This is a time when conversation can move quickly to a therapeutic chat – just talking really helps. If you are not experiencing the same or feel you can’t turn to anyone then there are agencies out there that can help. The Samaritans in the UK – https://www.samaritans.org with a sister organisation in the USA www.samaritansusa.org are both really good places to start.
I know that by not doing this, by not talking to those closest to you, that it will be harder to find a way through this. That it might take years instead of weeks. I know this from experience and I know that it will creep up on you in ways you never expected. Make the most of the shared grief and talk. I urge you that before you try anything else. That said, remember that because others are going through the same thing that they might feel overwhelmed themselves. Don’t take to heart any response you get when reaching out, give others the space they need and choose your time to talk wisely. These days we can at least send a message first to assess the situation.
Talking, I believe, is the bedrock of good mental health. I also believe that the natural world can help too as I know it really helps me.
And this is where we reach a problem. In normal life I would urge you to wrap up if the weather is cold and to get out to a woodland, the furthest away from human activity that you can find (but be careful if you are in bear country). I’d urge you to stand under a tree and to take off your shoes and socks. I’d urge you to use every sense. To listen to the birdsong and the leaves bristling in the wind or a nearby stream tricking past. To take a lung full of air and to think about what you can smell; the fresh breeze, the scent from a nearby primrose or perhaps the soil from the forest floor. If I was standing by you then I’d offer you a brew of woodland tea or pluck a pine needle for you to taste (some have a similar taste to craft beer).
I’d urge you to walk but without any care of where you are going to try and switch off from that mode of thought that thinks that things need to be done. I’d tell you to roll about in the leaf litter if you felt like it or to sing at the top of your lungs if that was your urge. I’d tell you not to feel restricted and to let your inner world calm down.
After four hours or so in the woods we might then light a fire and if there were a few us we’d sit and chat. We’d share our experiences in the forest and we’d return home feeling nourished.
This is the basics of a Japanese style of therapy known as forest bathing or Shirin Yoku and in my experience it’s works really well, but don’t just take my word for it have a read of this study –
As I write, here in the UK you can still forest bathe if you are in walking to woodland or even to a tree. I have been trying to keep this up at least twice a week and even if I only manage ten minutes it really has been helping me through this uncertain time. I go out when I feel in the most need. I find my brain thinks back to the images I’ve seen in the woodland for the next few days and it becomes a tranquil backdrop that helps to shield me from some of the everyday realities of this time. I find it stops me from giving in to grief and gets me closer to acceptance.
What about doing this on full Lockdown?
But as lockdown measures tighten, I feel that this lifeline will be taken away from me. Instead I have been experimenting with how to do this even if I can’t leave my property. Right now, I am listening to the noises of a forest while I write, birds are singing a small brook is bubbling away. A smile has crept onto my face and I feel parts of my brain drifting off to memories of woodlands I’ve experienced throughout my life. In short, it works and I’m not obsessing about things I am powerless to change.
I’m lucky and I have a great view from my house and looking out at this view really adds to the whole tranquil feeling when listening to natural sounds. Even if you only have a skylight get by it and use it. If you don’t, don’t worry you don’t even need a window. Lost of people have really had a lot of time on their hands over the years and youtube is awash with virtual forests to walk around, take your pick from across the globe! I like the sound of the one above with the video of this one below.
Get your face as close to your screen as you can without distorting the image and just gaze at it for a while.
You should use your imagination. Try and get as much of the natural world around you as possible. Light a fire if you can (or watch one), let a house plant tickle your head, stand under a tree in your garden with your shoes off or just stair up at the clouds whilst listening to birdsong. All will help reset your brain and if not try again the next day when you might be more receptive.
Please note, I’m not a licenced practitioner, just an individual who knows what personally works and I just hope that any of this will help you as much as it helps me. Stay safe and stay strong.