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