Modern society creates a lot of stress in our everyday lives, making nature therapy, like tree hugging, an accessible option for many people. While hugging a tree may initially sound like a silly thought, the benefits are vast and evidence-based. And now, as social distancing measures necessitated by Covid-19 prevent us from hugging other humans, hugging trees is even more appealing.
There is a strong body of research confirming that direct contact with nature increases mental health, psychological development, and strengthens spirituality. Benefits include stress reduction, increased self-confidence and self-discipline, and a stronger sense of community and belonging. However, in recent years, Americans have spent less and less time in nature due to the increased availability and popularity of electronic devices.
A study from Hofstra University reported that 70% of mothers surveyed recalled playing outdoors daily throughout their own childhoods, compared to only 31% of their own children today. A study from the University of Maryland found that from 1997 to 2003, there was a 50% decline in the time spent outside for children aged 9-12 years.
Nature stimulates children’s imaginations, problem-solving abilities, and self-regulation skills. In his book Blinded by Science, Matthew Silverstone states there is evidence that time spent with trees provides health benefits in all ages, and for conditions like ADHD and depression. While many believe it is green open spaces that contribute to this effect, Silverstone reveals that the vibrational properties of trees themselves offer health benefits. Hugging a tree immediately increases levels of feel-good hormones like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine, creating a pleasant and calming effect.
This effect is so profound that members of the Icelandic Forestry Service in East Iceland have been diligently clearing snow-covered paths and marking off trees that are 6 feet apart from one another along a path, so that residents can benefit from their therapeutic effects.
In a time when close contact with friends and family is dramatically limited, trees are a safe and readily available source of health, happiness, and comfort. To experience the full benefits of tree hugging, members of the Icelandic Forestry Service suggest spending just five minutes embracing a tree.
How to Hug a Tree:
- Step outside and look around at the trees available to you.
- Select a tree of any size that appeals to you.
- Stand next to the tree and wrap your arms around it.
- With your eyes open or closed, take several deep breaths and remain in the embrace for as long as it feels comfortable to you.
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