During chemo session number 5, I shed a few tears of self-pity. My cancer buddy, T had her final treatment that day and we spent the morning hooked up to our IVs, wishing each other well and exchanging details. She was done an hour before me and after our parting hug, I felt the length of the journey still ahead of me. I’m not half way yet. She’s finished. She can get down to the important business of building up her strength again – I’m feeling mine diminishing as each week passes. I think this middle phase of the course is probably going to be the toughest mentally. There’s still a long way to go and I’m not yet on the final leg. Of course, I’ve written before about how important I know it is to acknowledge our feelings and express them. Don’t deny the cry.
Thankfully, I live close to some of Ireland’s most ancient trees and at this time of year, I can only see greenery as I lie on the couch. Don’t laugh! We all know that natural scenes calm and restore us. Ancient medicine systems have long advocated for getting out into nature. Not just for the fresh air, but for the visual stimulation of nature. In the 1990s, Californian researchers used fMRI to show that aesthetically pleasing scenes of nature stimulate a part of the brain that is rich in opioid receptors. These are connected to the dopamine system, which enhances our sense of well-being and motivates us to positive behaviour.
Since the 1980s, the Japanese government has been encouraging ‘Forest Bathing’, or Shinrin Yoku, which means to use all our senses to bathe in the forest atmosphere. They have conducted multiple studies showing that being among trees lowers blood pressure, pulse rate and levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. It also improves our sleep, energy and boosts the immune system. Not surprisingly, people in the west have recognised this excellent approach and there’s now a world wide movement of forest therapy.
Our forests and trees are so precious, not just for the overall health of our planet but for our own individual bodies. Get out there and hug a tree – it’s good for you!