The Free, Simple Japanese Secret for Conquering Stress
I feel wonderful right now.
I’ve felt this way for nearly two weeks.
I’m calm. Focused. Infused with a sense that the world is unfolding pretty much as it should.
Well, theoretically, it could due to several factors. Teasing apart the components of “mood states,” as psychology researchers call them, can be tricky.
Nutrition, social connection, exercise, sleep quality, and a dozen more variables all contribute to our personal emotional climate.
But I haven’t changed much about how I eat, work out, socialize, or anything else lately.
So I think the reason for my good mood is this:
Another day in paradise — Patrick’s Point State Park near Eureka, California.
In early September, my wife, Laurie, son Alex, and I spent several days camping in various wild settings up and down the coast of Oregon and northern California.
That’s where we enjoyed the scene above — the morning light slanting through the Sitka spruce adjacent to our tent at Patrick’s Point State Park’s campground.
The joy in this setting wasn’t just from the soul-stirring vista.
The only sound was the wind and the distant ocean’s roar. The scent of fresh pine, spruce, and forest-floor humus was intoxicating.
It was a multisensory feast. I didn’t know how hungry I had been for it until it was set before me. Honestly — while I am generally a cheerful and positive guy, this trip took me to a new and better place.
Poets, philosophers, and spiritual leaders have long extolled the redemptive power of the woods:
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” — John Muir
“The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity; it provides protection to all beings, offering shade even to the axe man who destroys it.” — Attributed to Gautama Buddha
Now science is starting to confirm these insights.
The Japanese — who know a few things about stress and the psychic toll that concrete vistas can exact — lead the world in studying what’s called “forest medicine” or “forest bathing.”
One particularly revealing Japanese paper (1) reviewed experiments involved 420 subjects who were taken to 35 different forests throughout Japan. After sitting in natural surroundings, these folks were compared with control groups who stayed in urban settings.
The forest visitors showed lowered levels of biological markers indicating stress, including, on average:
- 12.4 percent decrease in cortisol level
- 7.0 percent decrease in sympathetic nervous activity
- 1.4 percent decrease in systolic blood pressure
- 5.8 percent decrease in heart rate.
If a drug could do all of that reliably, and with no side effects, it would be worth billions.
But I’ve been back in not-so-forested Tempe, Arizona, for more than a week. Why do I still feel so calm and focused?
Well, after pointing out that immune function activity (which usually accompanies lowered stress levels) in their subjects improved in the woods by 56 percent, the researchers noted that:
“A significant increase of 23% was maintained for one month even after returning to urban life, clearly illustrating the preventive benefits of forest therapy.”
So… the benefits persist.
But what if you just can’t get to the woods? There’s hope for you, too:
“In an indoor room experiment, we conducted tests with the following: 1) olfactory stimulation using wood smell, 2) tactile stimulation using wood, and 3) auditory stimulation using forest sounds. These indoor stimulations also decreased the blood pressure and pulse rate, and induced a physiological relaxation effect.”
Patrick’s Point, thrust into the Pacific Ocean, was particularly calming because it’s precisely the kind of environment in which our ancestors thrived — by an ocean full of nutritious fish, next to a forest with shade, berries to eat, and shelter to keep us safe from predators. But any wilderness is better than none at all.
Bottom line: Human beings are not meant to stare at drywall, concrete, asphalt, and fluorescent lights day after day without surcease. Forest environments heal us because they evoke our ancestral home, the place where we know, deep in our DNA, we truly belong.
So find your own Patrick’s Point. In whatever way you can, invite natural places like this into your life.
Editor, Natural Health Solutions
1. Miyazaki Y, Ikei H, Song C. Forest medicine research in Japan. Nihon Eiseigaku Zasshi. 2014.
Written By Brad Lemley
Brad Lemley is a science and health writer and former senior correspondent for The Washington Post and Discover magazine. He is a tireless advocate for safe, natural, self-directed healthy living practices and therapies.
View More Free Articles
When someone you love is battling Alzheimer’s, it’s heartbreaking. You want to do everything possible to ensure they live the happiest and most fulfilled life possible. And yet, all too often, you’re left feeling helpless in the face of overwhelming symptoms that threaten to destroy their quality of life. One of the MOST disturbing for...
“Why does chemo also destroy good cells?” Martha from Kansas City, MO Hi Martha, We tend to think of “chemotherapy” as a single treatment. But the truth is, there are various types of chemotherapies. And they work in different ways. In general, chemotherapy destroys healthy cells, not just the cancerous ones, because it’s a non-specific or...
Ginseng is the very definition of an “ancient cure.” In fact, you can find the potent herb mentioned in 2,000-year-old Chinese books as a treatment for a wide range of illnesses. But what’s made ginseng stand the test of time… remaining nearly as popular TODAY as it was hundreds of years ago… is its apparent...
After every meal, millions of Americans pop a pill. Folks are convinced that proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as Prilosec or Nexium are necessary to head off heartburn. But what these drugs REALLY do is liable to shock you. To begin with, they block your body from properly digesting your food. But that’s just the...
Once you pass a certain age, the medical ads start haunting you. You find them shoved into your mailbox. Then they show up in your email. And you even start spotting them hovering in the corner of every website you visit. It seems EVERYONE is trying to sell you a drug to relieve your arthritis...
Our healthcare system has a fatal flaw. It’s set up to react to illness, NOT prevent it. So, doctors are stuck in a losing game of whack-a-mole. They spend all their energy and time scrambling to knock down symptoms. That means prescriptions for preventative care are virtually nonexistent. And that’s certainly the case with memory...
I was in a small grocery store in the mountains recently, and noticed that they had bone broth for sale. I thought, “Wow, we’ve come a long way!” And that’s a good thing. Here’s why… Bone broth used to be nearly impossible to find in modern-day grocery stores. But to eke out as much nutritional...
You can’t turn on the T.V. or flip through a newspaper anymore without seeing a new drug breakthrough they claim will FINALLY rid humanity of our aging brain issues. These medicines hit the market promising miracles. But it typically isn’t long before we start seeing their dark side. Meanwhile, a safe, natural remedy to boost...
“We’ve unfortunately had to put my 90-year-old mother in a home. I’m so worried she’s going to get sick (especially with COVID still around). Is there anything I can do to help protect her?” Sam from Prattville, AL Hi Sam, Your situation sounds familiar. My father is in a senior living center with about 300...
You have five primary senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. (The sixth one doesn’t count. Only your Aunt Mable claims that one.) But you’ve likely noticed that only your sight and hearing get tested when you visit the doctor. Your senses of taste, touch, and smell are almost entirely ignored. And ignoring one of...