When Downtime Disappears, Forest Bathing Can Help Student Parents Destress

By J. Sparks, Redefining Traditional Project Member

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When I was a single, childless, undergraduate student, breaks from class and the time in between classes was when I explored the campus, had a mid-day power a nap in the library or checked-in with my friends over a coffee (or a beer).  After becoming a parent, my on-campus breaks from class, didn’t really feel like breaks at all.  Breaks became precious windows of time that I had to maximize.  Windows of ‘child free’ time in which I needed to prepare for the family responsibilities I would resume promptly after returning home from school.  Brief opportunities to check-in with the babysitter, prepare bottles, grab a few family essentials and/or groceries for the family meal I knew I would have to quickly assemble post-class. 

Honestly, as a new parent and as a post-secondary student, I often felt that I didn’t even have time to think let alone take a break during my busy days of balancing family and academic responsibilities.   

I recall one particularly challenging day on campus.  After being up all night due to a combination of term paper and teething, I left class on my lunch break just feeling exhausted.  The family to-do list was swirling in my head, I new I had to maximize my break time in order to make it through the day – but I just couldn’t.  I couldn’t move.  I was too tired.  My body and brain went on strike.  Feeling defeated, I sat down on a bench beside the only tree and patch of grass outside of my school’s busy urban building.  I just sat there.  I sat there because I was just simply too tired to do anything else.  As my classmates walked by on their way to grab coffee, and other students went on their way to class, as everyone and everything else seemed to be in motion and able to make it through the day, there was me – silent and still.   

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I sat there and was fully present in the moment.  I really felt the mid-day sunshine on my face and skin.  I looked at the lonely urban tree beside me.  As I sat there, I began to notice its multifaceted shades of green foliage.  For the first time in a long time, I was deeply aware and mindful of my surroundings.  Slowly, I started to feel better.  Sitting on this park bench, beside the urban tree, and the small patch of grass soon my break from class routine.  Between classes, I would sit there for 10 minutes.  I would intentionally focus on being mindful and quiet for a while.  I would banish the to-do list from my brain and whatever else was bothering me.  I would just sit and focus on being fully present in the moment; in my surroundings.  This routine always made me felt better.  It recharged me and readied me to resume my academic and family responsibilities of the day. 

After a while of doing this between class routine, I heard about forest bathing or shinrin-yoku, the practice of bathing in nature by taking in natural surroundings with all of your senses (1).  I came to understand my between class routine, as a mini-forest bathing exercise.  Like so many others, I came to understand forest bathing (even in an urban setting) as a simple and effective way to boost mental health and physical wellbeing (2).

After a while, I began to wonder, since forest bathing helped me to de-stress as a busy student parent, perhaps it could also be used to support the well-being of my family and friends.  And so, with my family and friends – partners, babies and toddlers in tow – we adopted routines that would allow us to forest bathe together.  We set-up weekly play dates in our urban parks and forested areas to allow ourselves and our loved ones to be immersed in nature.  Everyone said their physical and mental well-being benefited from our forest bathing play dates.  

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And honestly, it was just fun to be outside, appreciating and connecting to nature together.  It was a good time rain or shine.  So, if you are like me, a busy student parent, trying to keep your cool while persevering through lack of sleep and academic deadlines; all while balancing a never-ending to-do list.   Well, then perhaps forest bathing might work for you too.   

Works Cited and Additional Forest Bathing Ideas for your Family:

  1. More information about Forest Bathing or Shinrun-yoku: https://time.com/5259602/japanese-forest-bathing/
  2. Forest bathing on mental health in urban settings: https://www.mentalhealthtoday.co.uk/blog/awareness/forest-bathing-how-returning-to-the-trees-can-decrease-symptoms-of-anxiety
  3. Destress your kids with a forest bathing adventure: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/family/article/destress-your-kids-with-a-forest-bathing-adventure

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