When we’re very stressed and tense, one of the first pieces of advice we get from our colleagues is to go outside for a breath of fresh air or to step away from the computer screen for a while.
This is not just popular belief, but science: the correlation between closeness to nature and psychophysical well-being has been studied for years.
In Japan, since the 1980s, these studies have taken the form of Shinrin-yoku (森林浴), a practice of preventive natural medicine that can be translated as “benefiting from the atmosphere of the forest”, “bathing in the forest” or “forest bathing”. It’s therefore a discipline that teaches how to take advantage of the beneficial effects of relaxation and benefit from simple activities such as taking a slow walk in a forest and breathing fresh air to enjoy the tree and plant essences.
According to various medical studies, published on PubMed (Effect of phytoncide from trees on human natural killer cell function, Effects of forest bathing on levels of cortisol as a stress biomarker and The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku), immersing oneself in nature helps to reduce stress, lower heart rate and blood pressure, improve the parasympathetic nervous system’s activity and raise the immune system’s defences.
The main impact is on the production of cortisol, which is a hormone produced by the body to cope with stress: research has infact shown a lower production of cortisol in the short term during Forest Bathing sessions.
A 30-minute walk in green surroundings every day can be a natural stress reliever, especially for people working in hectic environments.
What to do if the park is far away or there just isn’t enough time?
Biophylic design is a valid solution. The first step to bring a bit of Forest Bathing into the office is to create spaces inspired by the outside world, with an abudance of plants and natural lighting. In this case we’re talking about biomimimetics, a science inspired by the forms and principles of nature that studies it’s organisational structure and behaviour, in order to find innovative solutions and improve human activities and technologies.
Design therefore studies and imitates natural processes in order to create innovative and sustainable solutions that are always closer to human needs.
Here’s what you need in order to recreate the Forest Bathing experience in the office.
- Forest-inspired colours, mainly blue and green. Blue has a calming and energising effect, while green helps to relax and reduce eye strain.
- Natural elements, harmoniously integrated into the office space. These can be simple potted plants or more complex elements such as vertical gardens or facades covered in climbing plants.
- Natural light, through large windows and through the use of furniture that doesn’t obstruct the view.
- Air purifiers, preferably with an aromatherapy function, to recreate the olfactory atmosphere of the forest.
- Background music inspired by the sounds of nature to create a 360° experience.
Each of these elements “work” on our brain, triggering a partial response similar to the one we would obtain with a real Shinrin-yoku. And if that doesn’t work? A nice walk after a long day in the office remains a viable alternative.