The connection between nature and your mental health

By Krista Kelly-Gombocz, Mazda Canada

After 18 months of lockdowns, Torontonians are finally breaking out of their shells. Everyone is excited to finally get a hair cut, visit with friends, and travel further than the grocery store. We must be mindful, however, that we all need a proper reset as we transition back to our normal daily patterns.

The connection between nature and your mental health

Our city is resilient, and it shows in how we are collectively reopening with fervour. This period has been one of the most disruptive of our lifetime. One that may have taken a toll on our overall well-being and mental health. For frequent gym-users, lockdowns broke routines, while runners and cyclists may have lost partners that helped push them those extra kilometres. Many people experienced a change in their weight, either gaining or losing pounds. And on the mental health front, one in five Canadians screened positive for symptoms of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

This is where the ancient Japanese tradition of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” is worth considering. In simplest terms, this means leaving your mobile phone behind, ignoring your millionth Zoom call, and going deep into a forest to intentionally reconnect with the earth. It means separating from the daily demands that many of us don’t even think about anymore because they have become so routine.

Scientific evidence supports the benefits of this approach to mental health and wellness. Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Dr. Qing Li outlines the physiological results of spending time in the woods. “As well as having a higher concentration of oxygen, the air in the forest is also full of immunity-boosting phytoncides,” explains Dr. Li. “They are the natural oils within a plant and are part of the tree’s defence system. There is also a harmless bacterium in the soil that we breathe in called Mycobacterium vaccae. It stimulates the immune system, and our emotions.”

The concept of shinrin-yoku is second nature to Mazda, which is headquartered in Japan. Mazda instills the idea of forest bathing in its designs, purposely crafting each vehicle—from the Mazda3, the current Canadian Car of the Year, right up to their CX-5 and CX-9 SUVs—with the comfort and wellbeing of the occupant at the forefront. This includes uncluttered dashboards, premium materials inspired by nature, and an interior engineered to be quiet and calm. Because of Mazda’s mindful design, getting into one of their vehicles begins the process of disconnecting from your daily demands.

The good news is that Torontonians don’t have to go very far to find old growth areas where they can reconnect with nature. For example, the oldest tree in Ontario is located in the Greenbelt, less than a 45-minute drive from the city. And there are a surprising number of forests in the ravine system that criss-cross Toronto. You don’t need to travel for six hours to the middle of nowhere to find a place for an amazing forest bath – although you may want to!

There is no single magic button that is going to improve everybody’s mental health as we come out of the pandemic. All of us are different, and we each have unique needs, but it’s safe to say that all of us can do with a bit of a reset. There’s no better way to do that than to put our phones down, close our laptops, and drive toward the trees.

 

Krista Kelly-Gombocz is the Director of People & Culture at Mazda Canada

 

 

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