Today is a perfect, fall day. The color is just turning, and the sun is warm. I took a short walk on the trail across the street to get away from the computer and organize my thoughts. With one step onto the trail I felt like I could BREATH.
No surprise, according to the article How Autumn Leaves Color Our Inner Lives. The brightly hued leaves of autumn can be an excellent stress reliever. The visual contrast of autumn color-change grabs our attention. Our brains interpret this as a signal. When we encounter variation in leaf color, our brains think it’s meaningful—and if the stimulus comes and goes at regular intervals, we attribute even more meaning to it.
The sensory and kinesthetic experience of walking along a trail seeing the color, listening to the leaves in the trees, and feeling the change in the air take our bodies out of fight or flight, suggests the article. Instead of fretting about to-do lists, we are in the present moment, crunching leaves underfoot like little kids. Our blood pressure and respiration rates lower. We can think more clearly.
People talk about forest bathing, the physiological and psychological exercise of “taking in the forest atmosphere.” Forest bathing comes easy here on the Iron Range, where access to wooded spaces is immediate. Due to low population density, these spaces are largely unpopulated and we can escape into solitary enjoyment without having to share.
I am fascinated by the research confirming what we already know–that being outdoors in nature make us happier. In Nurtured by nature: Psychological research is advancing our understanding of how time in nature can improve our mental health and sharpen our cognition, author Weir shares that in addition to cognitive benefits, “contact with nature is associated with increases in happiness, subjective well-being, positive affect, positive social interactions and a sense of meaning and purpose in life, as well as decreases in mental distress.”
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why hunters love hunting season so much: they are outdoors, in the woods, for hours at a time.
In places like Costa Rica and Hawaii, folks pay for forest bathing tours. Here on the Range, we can easily slip into forest areas along the edges of communities and replenish ourselves. When push comes to shove, I would choose easy access to forest over paid live entertainment, shopping, and even eating out.