Forest- Stress-Anxiety

Research by Dr. Qing Li; Japan (2004-2008)


The Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, after reviewing a number of research studies, has arrived at the conclusion that frequent walks in a forest setting may have a therapeutic effect on individuals by reducing their stress levels.

What happens in our modern cities?

Life in cities (away from forests), offer a variety of stimuli to our sensitive brains. These can typically include the movement of other people, traffic and their associated sounds, not to mention the effects of the increasingly ubiquitous magnetic fields associated with mobile phones, internet connections and the like.

How do some people respond to the constant stimulation that is found in cities?

The brain “captures”a variety of  stimuli, interprets it, and then transmits the interpretation to the rest of the body. The body, in turn, then responds to this stimuli in its physiological way. The transmission of these multiple and consistent stimuli, interpreted at times in an indiscriminate way (if the filter/coping mechanisms are broken) may, on occasion, increase the level of hormones associated with the fight or flight response.  When the body is charged with hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, the individual may start suffering after a number of days, months or years, and develop a clear predisposition toward anxiety-like symptoms in  answer to this accumulated stress. Symptoms such as these may eventually act as a not unexpected response to an “invasion” of stimuli that could predispose the brain to interpret them as a threat, even when they are not.

Why, from Dr. Li’s scientific point of view, does the forest help people reduce their stress levels?

Dr. Qing Li, a pioneer in this field, has proven that people may benefit from walking in forests by identifying the reduction of hormone levels in the blood such as cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline.

According to Dr Li’s research, walking in the forest has also been shown to decrease the activity of the prefrontal lobe and, in addition, decreases blood pressure, thereby balancing the autonomic nervous system. He also explains that in the forest there are ‘certain naturally occurring substances that people breath while walking among trees that contributes as well to the reduction of the levels of stress hormones.

Just walking in the forest may reduce people’ stress levels? And what if there are not a forest close by?

Based on the above research, when people walk in the forest, their stress levels and their responses to stress may decrease. However, it is fairly well known that the nervous system does not necessarily always differentiate between reality and fantasy/imagination. Walking among trees, the anticipation of it, imagining the trees nearby could potentially elicit the same reactions in people’s nervous systems, resulting in the reduction in the body of stress hormone. Also, high levels of stress at times, can be caused by internal stimuli. Thoughts, especially negative, pessimistic, catastrophic ones, tend to create the same “reactivity” (vs responsiveness) than external negative stimuli. Individuals who suffer from the negative effects of either internal and external overwhelming stimuli may be predisposed to suffer as well from anxiety like symptoms.


It has been scientifically proven that walking among trees may reduce stress. Anxiety like symptoms  can be a reaction to high levels of stress that could be more or less adaptable. As it has been mentioned here, the trigger to this reaction could be internal or external. However, the accumulation of stimuli may predispose the individual to react as if he/she is under threat, or is “unsafe”,  which may result in experiencing a sense of urgency or anxiety.

Following this line of thinking, and considering the high levels of stress that some people experience, and the consequent suffering from anxiety like symptoms (among others), would it not be prudent and conducive to better health to pay attention to what you think, tell yourself, the people that you interact with?  And what of your daily choices? How well do you take care of yourself?

Following the conclusions of Dr Qing Li, I would like to ask you, the reader, when was the last time that you went for a walk in a forest?


If you are interested in reading Dr. Qing Li’s research from the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine go to the following  link:


Laura Coogan

Sept 2018


The Role of Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Chronic Pain

Pain appearing in the body can, at times, become chronic. As well, a causal relationship can often be easily established - such as in the case of injuries resulting from a fall, a car accident, the result of an illness, and the like. However, at times the origin is unknown.

What is physical pain?

Physical pain is a sensory and subjective perception located in a part of the body. It is the result of abnormal stimulation of nerve endings. Physical pain can be acute and disappear after its cause has been treated or it can become chronic, even after its cause appears to have been successfully treated.

Physical pain and the resistance to it

Physical pain is a common life experience that tends to trigger resistance due to the immense stress that can result, especially when it becomes chronic. Since physical pain is a conscious sensory perception, the contact with it could be potentially disruptive. The individual who suffers from chronic pain often tries not to experience the unpleasant sensation by resisting the contact with the pain and this mechanism becomes, in and of itself, an important part of his/her life.

Physical pain as a magnet

By definition, a magnet cannot exist without creating a magnetic field from which it will attract or repel objects.When an individual pays attention to his/her pain, even with the intention of resisting the feeling associated with it, just the attention to it can create an expansion of the undesirable sensation. The experience itself may then trigger thoughts related to fear, for example, that the individual may try to reject. Attraction or rejection can potentially magnify the experience of physical pain as a result of this attention to the object (pain).

This experience then creates a “magnetic field” that tends to perpetuate itself.

Reasonable interpretations of physical pain

Pain, fortunately, serves the purpose of making the individual aware that something is not well and often a response to this experience leads to an appointment with a physician which is, for obvious reasons, highly recommended.

The subjectivity of pain

Often, the physician can diagnose the cause of the pain, while at other times a diagnosis may not be established. If the cause is not ascertained, then a cure may not be possible. Regardless of these circumstances, the experience of this physical pain can often be subjective, personal and unique. This unique experience can be based on many variables, among them the level of success or failure that the individual may have had in the past regarding the solution or lack thereof, of previous health issues. The individual may trust his/her body’s natural ways to heal or not. Based on these past experiences or those from significant others around them, the person may create ”adhesions”. These adhesions or interpretations of the physical pain may result in what the individual experiences in its uniqueness. At times these interpretations regarding the physical pain unfortunately could potentially augment the sensation, amplifying the pain due to its negative or pessimistic component. The uniqueness of the experience of the physical pain is not in the medical domain, but rather is in the psychotherapy domain.

Can psychotherapy help individuals who suffer physical pain?

The answer to this question is yes, the psychotherapist working in conjunction with a medical doctor (if possible) is recommended in order to treat physical pain, especially chronic pain. The medical doctor is the expert regarding the “medical body” while the psychotherapist is knowledgeable about issues such as body image, interpretations and especially, emotionally built resistance. At times, the physical pain involves emotional experiences that are not easy to let go of or even at times, to identify. For example, at times the grieving process is silently being experienced and yet is held by the body as  pain.

Traumatic experiences never exist in the potentially traumatizing event but rather in the body that carries the unique impact of it. Physical pain and its interpretations can coexist, creating habits and the attention to them may contribute to their chronic nature.

How would your life look like if you did not suffer from chronic physical pain?

This is the first question I ask new clients who consult for chronic physical pain. The answer, which at times is not always easy to say, may point to the meaning of the pain and its subjective/objective interpretations. That is, the sore body part may represent something related to, for example, unfinished grieving which may perpetuate the pain due to psychological resistance in connection to the loss.

Can chronic pain lose its intensity or even disappear?

Yes, most definitely. In my 35 years experience as a psychotherapist, I can confirm that chronic pain can be effectively treated with psychotherapy. However, it is strongly suggested that the therapist in charge has to be familiar with the approach of considering “adhesions” and resistance as part of the treatment. This is not about a “miraculous cure” but rather of a process where the individual with chronic pain learns, with guidance by the psychotherapist, what to observe and how to identify and transform what keeps the pain strongly present.

This unique exploration takes the client into a different self observation. As a result, clients with chronic pain may find

themselves in a transformative process of discovering the energy that was trapped in the previous experience, releasing it, and transitioning toward finding him/herself having their attention instead focused on a more creative and joyful way of living.

Laura Coogan