Harness The Power Of Nature CAN ACTIVITIES LIKE TREE HUGGING HELP COMBAT COVID LONELINESS? A LOOK AT WHY RECONNECTING WITH NATURE IS ON THE RISE
After spending months on end in various lockdowns and being unable to see our friends and families, loneliness has become a side effect of the ongoing pandemic that everyone has at some point experienced. However there may be a way for UK residents to combat these feelings of loneliness and isolation, and it even involves hugging for those who have missed being able to hug their loved ones.
The only catch? It’s a tree you’d be hugging and not another person. While the idea of going outside and hugging a tree might seem bizarre to a lot of people, there’s actually evidence that activities that help us better connect to nature can be beneficial to our well-being.
And a lot of us may have already experienced this without even realizing it; as during lockdown, we have relied on our local green spaces to help us escape and find a sense of calm. In order to better understand this relationship between connecting to nature and our wellbeing, outdoor clothing brand, Regatta, has looked at different activities people can do to truly harness the power of nature.
Hug A Tree
Tree hugging is believed to increase oxytocin levels which is considered to be the ‘happy hormone’, and has recently seen a spike in popularity after forest rangers in Iceland suggested people should aim to spend five minutes every day hugging trees to combat feelings of loneliness.
One ranger, Thor Thorfinnsson, told Iceland’s public broadcaster RUV: “When you hug a tree, you feel it first in your toes and then up your legs and into your chest and then up into your head. It’s such a wonderful feeling of relaxation and then you’re ready for a new day and new challenges.”
“If you can give yourself five minutes of your day to hug a tree, that’s definitely enough. You can also do it many times a day—that wouldn’t hurt. But once a day will definitely do the trick, even for just a few days.”
While tree hugging is only one of the activities highlighted by Regatta’s research, it’s possibly the strangest. Although if you do feel like taking up the activity, it’s worth spending some time to find a tree deeper into the woodland that likely hasn’t already been hugged by someone else to minimise any potential risks of catching Covid-19.
A lot of the activities that Regatta has looked at require you to physically do something, from wild swimming to artwork and foraging. However, forest bathing is different and probably most encapsulates the idea of reconnecting with nature. Taken from the Japanese phrase shinrin-yok, forest bathing is about bathing in the atmosphere of woodland. Using all of your senses to truly take in your surroundings, from the feeling of the trees and ground to the sounds of animals and the wind.
In this sense, forest bathing is quite similar to the concept of mindfulness and similarly is believed to be able to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and help you re-balance your mind. Yolandi Boshoff, a spiritual coach and founder of Divine Soul, regularly practices forest bathing in her daily life as a way to combat the stresses of running her own business, being a mom and wife, and trying to juggle everything all at once.
Yolandi says: “I always know when I am feeling anxious it is time to go for my walk – so once I enter the forest it feels like all the stress just rolls off my shoulders, I start looking at the trees and the other plants in the forest, the fresh air on my face and in my lungs, and everything just totally slows down.
“It feels like you step back into the natural rhythm of life. I am able to breathe better, my mind slows down completely and if I take some time to sit and just close my eyes in the forest everything seems to become less overwhelming. And then once my whole being slows down I can start prioritising my life, seeing what is actually important and necessary.”
Historically camp fires played an important role in human development, not just in changing our diets but also in the development of our social skills and allowing us to pass down oral history that ultimately shaped our culture.
This practice of winding down the day over drinks and food and sharing stories to strengthen our relationships can still be seen today; as many of us end each day sharing a meal with our loved ones and talking about our lives. So it’s no surprise that people up and down the country have begun to take up the activity of fireside storytelling as a way to find new friendships and spend time with their loved ones.
In fact there are a number of different companies that organise events specifically for this purpose, such as The Little Retreats in Pembrokeshire who in partnership with Wild Soul Swim host a monthly campfire storytelling retreat during the full moon.
As part of the event organisers share astronomy and stargazing tales, such as night time navigation and the stories our ancestors shared about each star sign, before ending the session with a starry night swim under the full moon.
Laura Sanderson, founder of Wild Soul Swim, adds: “Storytelling around a campfire also heightens the senses and allows the group to connect and solidifies the sense of community. We believe these monthly rituals have a significant impact on wellbeing and our connection to the earth and universe.”
Laura also believes that activities such as these have become popular in recent years as our lives have grown more hectic, leading to people craving a way to get back to basics. She has also seen a massive boom in people wanting to connect with nature due to Covid, especially in wild swimming.
However you don’t need an entire getaway to reap the benefits of fireside storytelling, you can simply set up in your back garden and reconnect with your loved ones as well as nature.