Tag: Wellness

You’re in the middle of a forest on a beautiful day in Maine. Sunshine peeks through the leaves and scatters in fascinating, eye-catching patterns on the moss-covered ground, soft under your feet. You breathe in the scent of pine and become aware of the stillness and the small sounds of scurrying chipmunks and birdsong echoing across the land. Green leaves, brown soil, and glimpses of blue sky fill your vision for as far as you can see. Warmth from the sun spreads across your face. You can feel your whole body relax as you walk slowly through the woods, breathing and sensing each moment fully.

Immersing ourselves in nature cultivates a sense of mindfulness, a practice that is now widely known for promoting mental wellbeing. What is it about being outside that restores us so?

Many workers spend hours indoors in a busy state of focused concentration, and one of the results can be mental and physical fatigue. Fatigue and stress are risk factors for depression, as is the lack of vitamin D many of us experience during Maine’s long winters. Treatment for mild to moderate depression may include cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and other interpersonal therapies. Many also find strategies such as aerobic exercise, yoga, and the Japanese practice of forest bathing helpful, whether they are experiencing mild depressive symptoms or simply daily stressors.

In addition to sometimes leading to depression, fatigue can result in reduced attention, and forest bathing seems to provide a respite from the long hours of concentration that typical workdays require. Screentime, a modern near-requisite, can exacerbate the problem, as can urban living and spending much of our time indoors.

In psychological parlance, Stephen Kaplan’s theory of attention restoration proposes that when we use quite a bit of directed attention, or effortful attention employed to focus on a task we’re choosing to pay attention to, we need to exercise involuntary attention, which naturally occurs in nature, to restore our balance. Directed attention, in other words, such as you employ during the workday, can cause fatigue and mental exhaustion (even if you enjoy the work you are doing), and you need regular breaks to offset the effects.

Research has demonstrated that the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” has positive physiological and psychological benefits, including a reduction in blood pressure, an improved immune system, and improved mental health—and one study in particular, published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine in 2019, found the improved state of mental health especially pronounced for those with depressive tendencies. This natural remedy for mild depressive symptoms can alleviate negative emotions and moods such as anxiety, fear, anger, and disgust, and increase positive emotions such as joy.

Since a number of studies in the 1980s touting the benefits of Shinrin-yoku, Japanese doctors have included the practice, which they often describe as preventative medicine, in what is called “social prescribing.” Other social prescriptions include gardening, mountain walking, exercise and sports, swimming, caring for animals, and cooking—all activities, you may note, which engage our senses.

To practice forest bathing, we can fully immerse ourselves and our senses in a walk in the forest. Put away your phone. Slow down. Quiet your mind. Notice the details from all of your senses. It is not as simple as taking a walk outside; “immersion” is precisely the right word to truly experience all of Shinrin-yoku’s benefits. And if you don’t have access to a forest, parks can serve as a substitute space.

More research is needed to fully explore the therapeutic aspects of Shinrin-yoku, including studying whether its effects apply to those with high stress and depressive tendencies. In the meantime, forest bathing can be a stress-reducing, preventative, healthy outdoor activity for everyone to enjoy—and summer in Maine is a great time to try it out.

 

Sources: psychologytoday.com, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, mentalhealthtoday.co.uk

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Three clinicians from Health Affiliates Maine (HAM) have responded to a request from the American Red Cross of Maine in providing relief efforts within areas of West Virginia. We are deeply grateful for the volunteer efforts of Echo Dixon-LCSW, Karen Hardy-LCPC and Shannon Morris-LCPC who are providing mental health support to individuals who have been impacted by devastating floods.

The partnership between HAM and the Red Cross of Maine illustrates our focus, passion and mission to ‘Share a Journey to Wellness’.  

We share our expertise. We share our resources. We share our hearts. 

Andrea Krebs, Executive Director of Health Affiliates Maine confirmed three mental health clinicians have deployed to West Virginia and a few others are waiting their call to deploy as well.  “It is truly amazing how professionals in our field come together in times of crisis, and willingly give of their expertise as volunteers.” says Krebs. 

Jan Frost, Disaster Mental Health Manager with American Red Cross of Maine, reached out to Luanne Rhoades, Outpatient Therapy Program Director with Health Affiliates Maine for volunteers. “The support of Health Affiliates has made a great deal of difference on this operation,” Frost said. “Your efforts got qualified mental health providers to an area of great need. Your ongoing support and valued partnership are much appreciated.”

Preliminary reports indicate upwards of 2,000 homes could have been damaged or destroyed.  Many areas are still not accessible and the number of affected homes is likely to change. Since the flooding began, there have been more than 1,900 overnight stays in emergency shelters. The Red Cross, in coordination partner agencies, has served more than 113,800 meals and snacks, and distributed more than 103,600 relief supplies including cleaning supplies and comfort items. This is a difficult time for many families unexpectedly forced from their homes – and Red Cross disaster mental health workers and their partners are helping people cope.

HOW TO HELP: This is a large relief response and the Red Cross needs the public’s support.  Those who would like to help people affected by disasters like flooding and countless other crises can make a donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief.  People can donate by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.  These donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small.

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