Looking to Reduce Stress? Try Spending Time in a Forest


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C6E6JC Rambouillet Forest

Shyler Yost

As a junior in high school, I am easily stressed by things like multiple assignments, balancing my job and classwork, and preparing for tests. I try to take breaks when I become stressed with homework, but this doesn’t always leave me feeling calm and ready to take on the next task. It can be difficult to find a way to reduce stress, but one method that has always been beneficial to me is taking a walk outside- and since my family loves hiking, most of my time outdoors is spent in forests.

It turns out that the simple practice of walking outdoors and spending time in forests/natural areas actually has a name- forest bathing. The term originated in Japan in the 1980s and was referred to as shinrin-yoku, which translates to forest bathing. The purpose of forest bathing when it first began was to inspire residents to connect with the local forests and step away from technology. Forest bathing isn’t an exercise- it’s simply a way to connect with nature through your senses and appreciate the natural beauty around you.

Researchers have studied just how helpful forest bathing is to the mind since the introduction of the concept of forest bathing. Science has proven that spending time outdoors brings a lot of benefits. Simply passing the time outdoors with activities like forest bathing has been found to help with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Time in green spaces has additionally been shown to reduce levels of cortisol-a stress hormone- in the body. Long-term stress and chronic elevations in cortisol levels can actually contribute to high blood pressure, headaches, heart disease, and many other health issues. By forest bathing, we can potentially lower our risk of facing these health problems in the future.

And these aren’t the only benefits of spending time in forests. Trees give off essential oils called phytoncides, and the properties of phytoncides may influence immunity against certain illnesses. Tree oils additionally contain a substance known as 3-carene. Studies in animals suggest that this substance can help to protect against infections, lower anxiety, lessen inflammation, and even enhance sleep quality.

Forest bathing isn’t just for adventure seekers or nature lovers. Anyone can incorporate this beneficial practice into their lives. I’ve found that I’ve become less stressed when I’ve visited forested areas-and some beautiful ones aren’t too far away! A few of my favorite nearby locations to forest bathe include Marengo Ridge Conservation Area in Marengo, Pleasant Valley Conservation Area in Woodstock, and Sterne’s Woods here in Crystal Lake (it’s right near Veteran Acres Park!). Our state additionally boasts some pretty amazing state parks for a day trip, such as Starved Rock State Park or my personal favorite, Matthiessen State Park.

I’ve loved every minute I’ve spent hiking through forests- my mind becomes clearer when I’m outdoors, and I am able to take a break from my homework, turn off the devices, and just relax. My family started making hiking part of our weekend routine ever since we began to use our free time during the Covid-19 pandemic to introduce ourselves to local natural areas and forests. Even though Illinois is not a state with many astounding environmental features, there are plenty of special places that are perfect for exploration, getting in touch with nature, and relaxation. So the next time the stress gets to be too much, try visiting a forest for the perfect break. Adventure awaits!



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