<em>A walk in the forest can heal the mind. </em>
                                Photo courtesy Nancy Sefton

A walk in the forest can heal the mind. Photo courtesy Nancy Sefton

Feeling blue? Try a little green instead

Kitsap, Naturally

Is your peace of mind running on empty? Are you hounded by self-doubt?

Must you be constantly achieving something just to be content? Do you find yourself tyrannized by obligations and timetables?

If so, try trading the Blues for the Greens. In short, immerse yourself in a Kitsap forest now and then, without your phone. I know, those last three words are social heresy, but it’s recommended by experts. Modern studies proclaim that the cure for our headlong rush to productivity lies among the foliage, amid a hundred shades of greenery. Luckily, Kitsap County is replete with Nature’s sanctuaries, large and small, from the Hansville area up north, to the far southern reaches. In this we are truly blessed. Wherever you live, there’s a forest refuge not far away.

Today I’m walking among tall, commanding evergreens, trying to jettison negative thoughts and let my surroundings take charge of my brain. “Hmmm…pretty moss…golden yellow; how striking beside those blue-green leaves! Narrow, twisty little creek… I love those gurgling sounds. Where does the water end up? That rotting stump… I wonder if birds are nesting inside? Ooops! Rustling in the ferns… a rabbit? possum? Critters watching me from their hideaways! Are they poking fun at my hat?”

If you can fixate on the colors, patterns, smells, textures, and sounds of the forest, you’re immersed in a popular Japanese tradition, “shinrin-yoku,” which translates as forest bathing, i.e. immersion in Nature. Studies show it decreases blood pressure, heart rate and stress; in short, you just feel better, mentally. One famous Stanford study used brain scans and questionnaires to test human volunteers, before and after a forest trek. The participants’ green experience had a noticeable effect: fewer negative thoughts, the kind that lead to depression.

Time to bring up gardening. Did you know that gardeners, on average, weigh less, are less likely to be depressed, and have greater self-esteem? One more thing: if you have room to include a few veggies (without using pesticides), all the better for your mental and physical health.

What about pets? It’s been shown that besides the emotional support they provide, especially in trying times, walking the dog(s) has benefits too, especially in a green setting. Interestingly, dog owners have a one-third lower risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. If you’re dog-less, offer to walk the neighbor’s pet once in awhile, and see if your overall health improves.

The great naturalist John Muir called us “America’s tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people.” He’d be gratified to know that Nature is the new “Vitamin N,” a mind medicine with no side effects. Further, it’s free and there’s no prescription necessary. Once in awhile, let yourself experience natural history overload. How lucky we are that in Kitsap County, pavement is the exception; greenery is the rule.

See you on the trail!

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