by Amy McVeety, AmeriCorps VISTA at Tillamook County Community Health Center
Have you ever noticed a sense of calmness and relaxation while spending time outdoors? Felt your stress slip away while hiking or spending time near a body of water? If you have, you may have recognized the benefits of forest therapy without even realizing it. Forest therapy, also known as forest bathing, is the immersion in and embracing of nature with all your senses. This practice, which has begun to grow in popularity, has mental, physical, and spiritual benefits that you can harness from right here in Tillamook County.
If you spend a lot of time outdoors, you may have already noticed some of the mental and spiritual benefits of forest bathing in your own life. Studies have shown that forest therapy can improve mental health, leading to reductions in stress, depression, anxiety, and negative emotions. People who participate in forest therapy sessions, especially in a group, often develop a sense of community among strangers and a deeper connection to the natural world. Additionally, time spent outdoors has been shown to be positively correlated with having more gray matter in your brain and can lead to a better mood.
There are also physical benefits to forest therapy. A study of older adults suggested spending time in nature can help lower blood pressure, especially when compared to spending time in a city. Another study showed that forest therapy may boost immune function by increasing the number of white blood cells (immune cells) and anti-cancer proteins in your blood. Both of these can improve your overall health and lower your risk of diseases like Type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Wondering how you can gain the benefits of forest therapy? Organizations like the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy offer programs for those interested in a guided forest therapy experience. Several of the guides in their registry are located in Oregon and can be contacted by those interested in a forest therapy experience. You can also attend their virtual training to become a Forest Therapy Guide yourself!
You can also get the benefits of forest therapy on your own. For a more self-directed experience, find a hiking trail or other natural area nearby and just enjoy spending time outside. Keep in mind that hiking and spending time in the woods may not impact everyone in the same way. Some people experience these benefits more when they are near water or on a mountain top. What matters is exploring which natural environments help you feel calmer and more connected to yourself and the world around you. You can use the new Tillamook County Trails and Recreation Map at https://tillamookcoast.com/recreation-map/ to find a new spot or return to an old favorite.
While you’re out, consider taking time to connect more deeply with the nature around you. You can do this by engaging senses you don’t use as frequently while outdoors (such as focusing on the feeling of the bark of a tree or closing your eyes and thinking about what you smell around you). Also be sure to take some time for internal reflection both during and after the experience, maybe involving some meditation or deep breathing. You can also share the experience with others and discuss how you felt as a group.
Tillamook County is full of wonderful natural spaces for you to explore. With all the benefits of forest therapy, physical activity, and the last of our warm summer weather, it’s a great time to get out and enjoy them.
For more local health and wellness information, go to www.tillamookcountywellness.org or follow Tillamook County Wellness on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.