Just a quick post to let you know I’ve made and put online the Leaf Your Troubles workbook! This is a 25-page companion booklet of worksheets that dovetail with the exercises in my book, Leaf Your Troubles Behind: How to Destress and Grow Happiness Through Plants.
What’s In There
It’s a pretty simple format. I included Escape to Nature journal pages focusing on the Time Log exercises and Green Personality exploration. It also features a sample Stress Bramble you can add to along with daily Green Leisure worksheets.
I round out the last section with lists of recommended plants, maybe the funnest part! I’m sharing my favorite easy shrubs for most U.S. gardens, easy-to-grow houseplants that are safe for dogs and cats, and plants that propagate simply through cutting or dividing. Plus, good plants for a rain garden!
Speaking of rain gardens, I also include extra activities on getting more greenery in your life, both indoors and out. And so I added basic instructions on installing a community rain garden. Also, a quickie recipe for mint ice cubes that go with the cocktail recipe at the back of the Leaf Your Troubles book.
How Do I Get It?
What I like most of about this format is because it’s a PDF you’ll download on your own computer, you can print multiple pages of whatever page you like. If you want to do more than one Stress Bramble, you can just print two or three copies. If you like the journal worksheets, you can print as many as you like. And you can even print and share the recommended plant lists if you want to as well.
To get your free workbook, click here. Thanks for the support. And don’t forget to rest your attention on something green today!
To buy Leaf Your Troubles Behind, click here for Amazon,
or here for Barnes and Noble,
here for Kobo,
or find it at your local bookstore.
For today’s green scene of the day, I’ve chosen an image from my garden. My Crispa spiraea (Spiraea x bumalda ‘Crispa’) is an unusual spiraea because it grows these crinkly, toothy leaves, which is very unlike a spiraea. But what it shares with other spiraeas are those gorgeous summer blooms. Butterflies love their flat umbels. I also find this shrub sooo alluring.
Plants Popping Through Each Other
The spiraea all by itself is pretty darn cool but my peach Peruvian lilies (Alstroemeria) are pretty heavenly too. They often poke through the spiraea as they reach for sunshine (and because I often forget to stake them, haha). Isn’t that peach and yellow pattern with the tiny stripes so neat? This variety, whose specific name I don’t know, is absolutely my favorite alstroemeria. I bought it eons ago when I lived at a different house. But I brought a couple clumps of tubers to the house I live in now and they’ve flourished.
A Color Combo to Please the Eyes
So I thought it would be a nice bit of relaxation for you to have access to this image. I love how the deep pink puffs of the spiraea play off the smooth coral color of the alstroemeria. If you’re on a lunch break sometime, you might take three minutes out just to sit quietly and enjoy them both. Take a few deep breaths and allow your eyes to roam through this lovely little moment of nature. Hopefully, you’ll feel a bit more relaxed afterward. Cheers.
If you’re anything like me, you get stressed out because of work — or your kids or parents or even an unexpected traffic jam or small injury. Stress is an ongoing issue in our modern world.
Sometimes when we’re stressed getting outside and taking a walk can help. Our mind takes a break from whatever is causing our angst and our bodies take in outside air, which helps us relax. But did you know there’s an added benefit to taking a walk specifically in the woods?
It’s not that it’s a more serene, prettier experience, though there’s that too.
The added benefit of walking in the woods is the scent that trees make. And I’m not talking about the generally refreshing smell of the leaves or wind or soil, though that’s a part of it. I’m talking about phytoncides.
Phytoncides are the essential oils trees create to ward off pests and harmful bacteria. They are limonenes, turpines, carene, pinene, and others. If you’ve ever walked through a grove of cedars, you’ve smelled them. It’s oftentimes a spicy cool scent but not always. For instance, garlic gives off phytoncides as well, that strong familiar fragrance that wafts up when you smash a clove. Whatever the phytoncide, researchers have discovered that when humans inhale them, they boost the immune system.
Two Ground Breaking Studies
Dr. Qing Li, who I mentioned in my post about the most reputable researchers in plants and mental health, has led the research on walking in the woods or “forest bathing.” He conducted experiments where Japanese businessmen between the ages of 37 and 55 walked for two hours in the mornings and afternoons on forest paths.
Dr. Li and his team sampled their blood and found that their T cells, which are the Natural Killer cells our bodies make to fight off cancer, jumped in activity. In fact, they increased about 50 percent compared to their baseline measurements. Wow!
Another fun fact: the effects lasted a full seven days after the trip to the forest.
Because he wanted to learn whether a person had to physically be present in the forest, Dr. Li and his team conducted another experiment where they asked twelve men between the ages of 37 and 60 to sleep in a hotel for three nights.
With a vaporizer, the team released the scent of Hinoki Cypress tree oil (Chamaecyparis obtusa) during the night. After taking the subjects’ blood, they found a 20 percent increase in NK cells! Subjects also reported feeling more rested and less fatigued.
Dr. Li has gone on to study other aspects of this phenomenon. He’s found walking in the forest not only increased NK cells but also reduced blood pressure and heart rate.
His and other researchers’ studies have shown an increased activity of the parasympathetic nerve system, the part of the nervous system that helps us relax.
Related to that, studies show forest bathing reduces cortisol, our stress hormone. And finally, forest bathing reduces anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion.
So if you’re feeling stressed this week, consider visiting a large public park or wooded preserve on the weekend. Walking for an hour or two among trees will physically as well as psychologically remove you from your daily problems.
Plus, it will heal more than just your mood, it’ll increase your body’s ability to fight off one of our most dangerous diseases. Think of it as free medicine only nature can prescribe.
In the past several years, you may have seen headlines claiming that plants can help our mental health. Well, that is indeed true. But how do you know which studies are reputable? Which are woo-woo, feel-good stories stronger on common sense than fact? Which are flat-out misinterpretations meant to excite more than educate? And which include what the science truly shows?
I myself used to feel confused about the topic until I spent a year writing a book on it. So, to help suss out the truth, I thought I’d spotlight the most reputable, longtime researchers in the area of plants’ mental health effects.
First off, the idea that nature is good for the mind and body goes back thousands of years. I’m not saying anything new here. But it’s only been in the last 40–50 years that scientific studies have showed evidence backing up the claim. We’re learning more and more about exactly what kinds of nature experiences help, how long to engage in them, and why they’re effective. Here are five researchers who’ve devoted their lives to answering those questions. If you see an article where they’re cited, you can be assured the science is solid.
1. Roger Ulrich
Roger Ulrich is a health care design professor at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. He’s studied (among other things) the positive effects of plants on the mind and nervous system since the 1980s. He conducted an often-cited study about how patients, who were recovering from gallbladder surgery in the 1970s, recovered more quickly and with fewer complications when their beds faced views of outside trees and greenery rather than a wall. Ulrich has also led a load of other nature-relaxation studies but this is his most famous.
2. Yoshifumi Miyazaki and Qing Li
Yoshifumi Miyazaki and Qing Li have been studying the ancient practice of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing since the early 2000s in Japan. This anthropologist from Chiba University and immunologist at the Nippon Medical School have collaborated on several projects. They’ve tracked stressed-out business people and their aimless walks in forests to show how slowly meandering among trees not only lowers stress but restores a positive mood and literally boosts the immune system (e.g., increases cancer-fighting cells). Li’s book Forest Bathing has become a cornerstone in the literature.
3. Rachel Kaplan
Rachel Kaplan (and Stephen Kaplan, now passed away) is an environmental psychologist, retired from the University of Michigan, who’s studied the effects of natural environments on our well-being since the 1970s. The Kaplans are most known for positing their Attention Restoration Theory (ART), which proposes that natural landscapes contain the softly fascinating but relaxing patterns our minds need to restore our depleted attention. This is why we feel energized after walking through a park rather than an alleyway. Many researchers have cited and added to the Kaplans’ vast body of convincing evidence.
4. Jo Barton
Jo Barton is a health and exercise researcher at the University of Essex who’s studied the effects of exercise in nature for about the last dozen years. She and fellow researchers have found that exercise in greenery improves self-esteem, betters one’s mood, and lowers stress much more than indoor workouts. Her institute’s research coined the term ‘Green Exercise.’ Their work is impressive because they’ve studied over 1200 participants across multiple investigations, and have used consistent measurement tools to show that green exercise, even brief, five-minute bouts, affect the young and old, the infirm and well, and those in between, in extremely positive ways.
5. Terry Hartig
Terry Hartig at Uppsala University in Sweden is a psychologist who’s studied the restorative effects of nature and green spaces since the 1980s. He’s studied how greenery helps us live longer, restores our fatigued mind, lowers our stress, encourages social interaction, alleviates depression, helps us become mindful, and more. He’s been a key researcher in the area of public health and urban planning.
There are hundreds more researchers doing fascinating work across the globe. I haven’t mentioned other folks in Europe, Australia, Asia, the United States, and Canada who are examining the effects of plants and greenery in other ways. For instance, there’s a whole body of research looking at the effects of plants in schools, offices, hospitals, etc. This field is growing and more is being published every day.
One criticism of this area of study is it’s often based on observation and self-reporting. Of course, in psychological studies that’s often the case. However, scientists can quantify the effects of stress through the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, blood pressure, heart rate, and so on. Another criticism is that nature is difficult to define. Still, researchers carry on to answer that question too.
Over thousands of years, human beings have done an outstanding job of sheltering from the outside elements. Now that we’ve perfected the art, it may be time to look at how we can take advantage of our first natural home and reconnect with plants for our mental health again.
When I was a professional gardener, I made a lot of people happy by helping them with their gardens. Usually, I either created and installed a new garden or maintained the one they already had. Regardless, after my work was finished, my clients often told me their garden was their happy place. It relieved them from stress. Reset their energy. I understood this since my own garden made me happy too, even when there was a lot of work to do. So I started to wonder: why exactly did plants make us happier?
I knew the reasons that applied to me: they were beautiful, soothing, diverse, silent, expected, honest. But I wanted a deeper answer.
Why did they make me feel so good and restored? What is it about the human body and its reaction to plants? Now, after more than a year of research, I’ve figured out five reasons.
1. Plants were our first evolutionary home.
For thousands of years, people were immersed in nature. We relied on plants for shelter, food, clothing, furniture, boats, medicine, weapons, and so much else. It’s only natural that we feel a deep, innate connection to them. That connection was termed biophilia by biologist E.O. Wilson. He proposed that humans are innately drawn to natural environments and other living systems. Many studies have proven him right.
2. Plants grow in patterns pleasing to our visual system.
Have you ever looked at a leaf close up? There’s always a few thicker main veins from where smaller veins branch out, then smaller ones, and so on. This pattern that repeats and is often equally sub-dividable is called a fractal. They occur in leaves, tree branch structure, overlapping greenery, and even how flowers spiral. Our eyes are anatomically built to explore visual material in this way. So when we look at plants, we lock in to our natural way of seeing the world. In turn, this correlative experience makes us feel at ease.
3. Green colors soothe our nerves.
Studies show muted green colors negate arousal in our bodies. It has shorter wavelengths so our eyes don’t need to adjust to it. Also, because green evokes the natural world, we feel centered and relaxed when immersed in it. That in turn lowers anxiety. It also makes us feel optimistic and refreshed. All this is why actors and celebrities always prepare their performances in a “green room” before they go onstage.
4. Plants release physiologically restorative scents.
Of course, we all love to smell roses or lilies or any other sweet flower. That inhalation brings us a sense of joy and hope. But some plants, mostly coniferous trees, release their natural oils, which not only evoke positive feelings, but literally heal our bodies. Several studies out of Japan show that inhaling the scents of trees lowers blood pressure and heart rate while boosting our cancer-fighting cells. Wow! So a walk in the woods isn’t just a nice outing, it’s actually supercharging your immune system.
5. Plants change and surprise us.
We often think of plants as the static background to life, but they’re hard at work growing, healing their wounds, and trying to reproduce. They also grow new tissue, change colors, fight off disease, and most noticeably, bloom. These changes add a serene complexity to our lives. When we see a new leaf unfurl on a houseplant, we can’t help but feel hopeful. When we see leaves change color on trees, we feel a simultaneous joy at the bold colors and melancholy at the approaching winter. When a plant we’ve struggled to keep alive suddenly blooms, it sparks surprise and wonder. Plants quietly progress and that slow but noticeable activity provides us with a richer daily life.
The natural takeaway
So, if plants do literally make us happier, then what should we do? Well, even a city dweller who works in a skyscraper can access nature with a few easy changes.
Next week, I’ll offer some of those easy changes. In the meantime, here’s one simple thing you can do: find a nature-related wallpaper for the device you’re reading this on and set it for your home page. Every day, when check your phone, tablet, or laptop, you’ll be greeted by the reassuring color of green and lovely patterns of your most ancient but familiar friends. And that will, if even for a minute, make you happier.