Stressed Out Teens? Try Forest Bathing. | Center for Growth Therapy

Stressed Out Teens? Try Forest Bathing.

Jonah , MSW, LSW — Associate therapist

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Stressed Out Teens: Try Forest Bathing

This is a stressful time for teens and adolescents. School closings, restricted social activities, parents who may be out of work, and an uncertain future. Combine all of these pandemic-related stressors with the normal developmental challenges of adolescence, and you’ll get a pressure cooker ready to explode. According to developmental psychology and neuroscience, the teen years are some of the most emotionally volatile due to changes in lifestyle and chemical alterations in the brain. It’s no surprise that teens are having an especially hard time coping during the Covid-19 era, but that is little consolation if you’re the parent of a teen who is struggling with depression, anxiety, behavioral issues, sleep, school avoidance, or other concerns. You need something to help yesterday.

While psychotherapy and medication may help, you’ve probably also heard about the benefits of mindfulness meditation. The problem is, many teens, especially younger teens, struggle to sit still, and on top of that, closing the eyes and focusing on the breath may not seem like much fun for a skeptical adolescent. If this sounds like your teen, consider forest bathing as a way to combine mindfulness with the benefits of being outside in nature.

What is Forest Bathing for Teens

Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is an ancient practice that was formally recognized by the Japanese government in the 1980s to improve people’s mental and physical health by encouraging them to practice mindfulness in nature. Unlike hiking, there is no destination in forest bathing, and unlike a nature walk, forest bathing isn’t about identifying plants and animals. Instead, forest bathing is about letting go of distractions and intentionally experiencing nature through the senses. Teens can practice forest bathing by immersing themselves in any environment (it doesn’t have to be a forest) so long as it is outside and ideally somewhat protected from traffic and other loud, human-created noise. Numerous studies have shown lasting positive effects of forest bathing on treating mood regulation, depression, anxiety, and even chronic conditions including cancer, GI issues, and strokes.

Here are just a few benefits of forest bathing for teens:

  • A fun way to gain mindfulness skills without needing to sit still and close the eyes

  • A healthy distraction from from digital screens and social media

  • Supports mood regulation

  • Reduces anxiety

  • An activity that parents can do with their teens—or that teens can do alone

  • An opportunity for teens to connect to the natural world and tap into their innate spirituality

How to Help Teens Destress with Forest Bathing

  1. Find a nearby walking trail in a park or preserve, ideally away from cars and other loud distractions.

  2. Help your teen set an intention to practice forest bathing for at least 15 minutes before taking a break.

  3. If your teen is bringing a phone, encourage them to turn it off or put it away in a pocket or backpack compartment to reduce the temptation to check it.

  4. Provide your teen with paper and a pen to document how they feel before forest bathing, writing down just a sentence or two.

  5. If going with your teen, prompt them to intentionally focus their attention on their senses, savoring whatever enters their field of awareness. You might prompt them by asking questions like:
    1. What does the air or sunshine feel like on your face? Warm, cool, something else?

    2. What sounds do you hear if you listen really closely? Is the sound steady or constant? Pleasing or unpleasant?

    3. What do you smell? What does your body feel like as you notice that smell?

    4. What do your eyes want to focus on? What colors or textures do you see when you look closely?

    5. What in the environment sparks your curiosity, and what do you notice when you really pay attention to it, savoring it with your senses?

  6. After at least 15 minutes of forest bathing, encourage your teen to write down how they’re feeling now and what that experience was like.

Remember to praise your teen for trying something new. Acknowledge how they tapped into their innate capacity for mindfulness, to pay attention with intention, to improve their well-being. Foster their sense of empowerment and independence by reminding them that they didn’t need you, their parents, or any experts to tell them what to do. Instead, all they needed to do is pay attention to how being in the natural world sparked their curiosity—and how doing so hopefully helped them to feel better. The ability to pay attention is always available to us, and we don’t need to be in pristine nature to channel it. Teens (and people of all ages) can practice forest bathing simply by sensing and savoring any environment they find themselves in, whether that’s really noticing the colors and textures of a suburban front yard or listening to birdsong in the city.

If your teen enjoyed forest bathing, help them set an intention to practice forest bathing 1-2 times per week. For more mindfulness training or other mental health support for teens, consider reaching out to one of our skilled teen therapists for therapy. We have offices in Philadelphia, Ocean City, Mechanicsville and Santa Fe.

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