Guest Post: 'How Forest bathing made me feel supported and happy'
Having originated in Japan and China, forest bathing – or Shinrin-Yoku – can be used to help decrease undue stress and potential burn-out. Research has found that immersion in nature has human health benefits, including a decrease in blood pressure, pulse rate and reduced acute psychological distress. In this guest blog, Ruth from Forest Clouds Nature Therapy tells us her story of how she discovered Forest Bathing, and how it helped her with her PTSD.
“Mid 2018 living in the beautiful mountains and woodlands of mid Wales, I found myself being rushed to hospital after collapsing at work with an unexpected critical respiratory illness that led to a long stay in hospital and several days in ICU. These days were made easier by the lucky and rare views from my hospital bed of the hills and trees surrounding the area, and somehow that view gave me hope and perspective on my own struggle and place in the world. Seeing the trees and green space, the view of the natural world, really helped to hold me. And yet I knew this terrifying experience would have a profound effect on my mental health; my boyfriend had treated me as if this was a major inconvenience to him, he broke up with me whilst I was still fighting for my life. My parents had been unable to make the trip across the country to visit me. I felt totally isolated and terrified. I had lost my job, my accommodation, relationship and any idea of future plans. With the rug being well and truly pulled out from beneath my feet, the anxiety and fear staying with me with every breath, and the months of recovery back at home in Essex, with no idea how to re-build my life, I developed PTSD.
I knew the signs, I had worked in mindfulness and meditation as well as some basic training in mental health and psychology, but I still felt guilty for feeling this way. Wasn’t PTSD only for war veterans or extreme abuse traumas? But I soon learnt, through therapy and reading, that PTSD can come from any traumatic situation. Medical life-threatening traumas are often the trigger for PTSD symptoms and yet rarely talked about.
At home at my parents’ house I kept reminding myself of what I had learnt on that hospital bed. My parents live near a beautiful woodland area, and I knew I had to get there to help my mind and body. Step by step I got from the garden to the front door, to the drive, to the street and finally up the street and into the woods… the woods became my sanctuary. Soon I was managing long slow walks surrounded by the trees and the birds, and squirrels. I felt supported and happy. I felt able to breathe. Nothing was demanding my attention, I felt my body relax. Nothing was judging me, I felt supported. And although alone, I didn’t feel isolated but instead felt connected to all the living things around me.
I discovered articles that talked about hospital patients recovering at a faster rate if given a view of nature, or even just images of nature. I discovered research papers on the studies done over in Japan, how time in nature directly affects our bodies, our nervous system, and our minds. I stumbled across the practice of “forest bathing” or “shinrin yoku”and decided to book myself onto a session in North London.
The practice of forest bathing is in essence enormously simple, and yet one we most likely forget to ever practice in our day to day habits or walks in nature. In a nutshell, we are simply using our senses through a series of guided invitations to connect to nature and ultimate to ourselves. What I enjoyed the most about the approach is that it is all invitational. No pressure, no goals, no need to achieve. Freedom but held within the guide’s gentle suggestions and invitations. I felt safe.
In a world that triggers the hyper vigilance so often experienced in PTSD, a place to feel safe and just ‘be’ is rare and sacred. It seems nature can offer that to many of us, in a way that although full of sounds and smells and movement it doesn’t demand our attention. Instead it allows us to notice, to observe, without expectation. Forest bathing feels a gentler way to access meditation and mindfulness, without the need to sit in a room and “try” to meditate which, although very helpful to some, can be incredibly challenging especially whilst managing PTSD symptoms.
Following this journey, I decided to train as a forest bathing guide, whilst also qualifying in basic counselling skills and mindfulness teaching, so that I could offer sessions to others who may benefit. Participants are often those who live with anxiety or PTSD, many of whom have had health conditions that triggered or exacerbated their symptoms.
The beauty of the practice is that you can do it by yourself and do it even in your own garden or by a window. A guided session will give you ideas and practices, but also the comfort of knowing your guide is keeping an eye on the route and the time so that you don’t have to.
Now a fully trained guide, I feel fortunate to have found so many beautiful places to guide in Essex, working with Essex Wildlife Trust, the National Trust, Essex County Council, Mind and the NHS, offering group sessions and private one-to-one sessions (subject to covid restrictions).
I am always happy to answer any questions, and indeed proud to support PTSD UK in raising awareness.”
You can find out more, and contact Ruth at www.forestcloudsnaturetherapy.co.uk
It’s important to note, that while choosing your PTSD recovery path you need to address both the symptoms and the underlying condition. NICE guidance updated in 2018 recommends the use of trauma focused psychological treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults, specifically the use of Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Please remember, these aren’t meant to be medical recommendations, but they’re tactics that have worked for others and might work for you, too. Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you.
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Treatments for PTSD
It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.