Thursday, 7 June 2018

How an idea from Forest Bathing helps us with our worries


I'll be honest, when it was suggested I try out Forest Bathing I pictured a hidden geothermal lagoon. There are a few in the UK and although the physical health benefits of geothermal water are relatively well known, the Forest Bathing I took part in was much more about mental and overall well being that didn’t just apply to me, but also to my kids.

Forest Bathing originates in Japan where it's been translated from the words Shinrin for “forest” and yoku for "bath" and is the art of bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses.

I've also seen it being described as a mindfulness technique, about being in the here and now in the forest. I've seen mindfulness being used with kids with autism and ADHD as a way of calming them and anything that focuses on sensory interpretation is always useful to know about too.

I took part in a three hour forest bathing session during a recent break at Blackwood Forest. Although initially I thought this was a long time it really didn't feel like it at all.  And perhaps that's part of how the therapy works.  We were guided through a series of tasks via one of the Forest Rangers.  There was nothing difficult or confusing - it was all simply about really focusing on noticing and  appreciating what was around us.

There are few times when I forget my worries for a while but this was one. So what did I learn that could I pass on to my kids?

I have three beautiful children.  Two boys and a little girl.  Both our boys are autistic and our eldest, Anthony also has ADHD. Their lives are busy.  They cope with things I didn't need to when I was their age and that's because they are different from their peers in many ways.  Our younger son, David, is still pre-verbal and doesn't really talk despite being seven years old. The world can be a confusing place for them both.

I think the Forest Bathing experience highlighted a few things that may be useful for my kids and also help me with them.  This one in particular.


Worry Stones

One of the things that is challenging for many people is worry.  Anthony in particular suffers from anxiety and I have my own difficulties in 'letting things go'.  It leads to further issues with sleep in our home and can have a general affect on how the boys cope with the day.  They have less resilience and this puts us at greater risk of mental health issues.

Many of the worries that both I and my kids have, are around things we cannot currently do anything about.  A worry that an outcome will or won't happen in the future or a concern over something that has already happened that we are unable to change or do anything about.

I've only just learned to try and recognise worries and allow myself to 'park' them.  Put them aside or a period of time, knowing that I will return to them when I need to.  This could be for a few hours, days, months or even years.

In the forest, to help clear our minds we found stones. We've all heard of worry stones right? Well, instead of using a smooth worry stone to calm yourself, we simply told the stones our worries so the stone could hold them while we focussed on being in the forest.  One of the important things was that we put our stones down afterwards and would pick them back up again on the way out of the Forest Bathing experience.  There was something very reassuring about not 'letting go', just 'letting go for a while'.

My concerns and worries are important to me - it’s part of the reason I’m thinking about them all the time. But when I’m worried so much that it affects other parts of my life, I need to do something about it. My eldest in particular struggles with this. Worries and concerns can consume him at times and in addition the stress around this means he then can’t function. He can’t sleep because he’s worried, he can’t eat because he’s worried, he can’t do homework because he’s worried.

And I realised the same technique from Forest Bathing can be used to help him to.

When he can’t sleep because of his worries, his cuddly rabbit can hold them till the morning.

When he can’t eat because of his worries, he can put them in a bowl until he is finished.

When he can’t do his homework, he can put his worries into his school bag while he does his homework and collect them when he’s finished.

And it seems easier for Anthony to put his worries down the more often he does it. By using items that are around him, he can know he can do it anywhere.  The only thing is that they are safe, so it’s no use for example putting worries into the sink - in case they get washed away. This would actually cause more stress as he is then worried about his initial concern and about the fact that his worries were nearly lost.

After I’d finished my Forest Bathing, I headed out of the forest and picked up my worry stone. I’ll be honest, it felt lighter.   It's like putting down the concerns down gave some time to gather the mental strength to pick them back up again and continue.   I'm sure the Forest Bathing exercises made me relax and be more prepared to pick them up.  At least one thing I can worry about a little less is how my son is coping.  We've both got one more strategy to work with now to help us stress less.

6 comments:

  1. Really lovely post ... sounds like a beautiful experience ... and so useful too the idea around parking of worries. We could all do with this! #TriumphantTales

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  2. This sounds like a wonderful experience. Thanks for sharing with #TriumphantTales :)

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  3. I have heard so many great things about Forest Bathing and wow! three hours does sound like a long time but it sounds like you had a really big take away from the experience which is fantastic. I have to say I would love to do is sometime - we don't spend enough time in nature and I think nature has the answer to a lot of our problems and worries as you discovered here! Thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub with this x

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  4. It certainly sounds that this experience came with lots of benefits #TriumphantTales

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  5. I've never heard of forest bathing before. I love this idea and I think it could help me and both of my boys. My oldest has Autism and my youngest has ADHD and is also a bit of a worry wort. I have to look into this in my area! Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention:) #CoolMumClub

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  6. This sounds great and I’m thinking it may work for our autistic girl too! Thanks x

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I read all your comments and appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me and our readers. I welcome any feedback on my posts and you can always contact me directly. Thank you.

What is Autism?
It's so much I couldn't possibly try and explain. For us it's wonderful and heart-breaking. Joyous and truthful. But as far as diagnosis is concerned, why not have a look at the National Autistic Society for their definition of Autism.
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