Social distancing is getting to us all. These are tough times for everybody, and the Icelandic Forestry Service has some advice we can use.
The Icelandic Forestry Service is encouraging people to hug trees while social distancing. Forest rangers in the Hallormsstaður National Forest in East Iceland have been hard at work clearing the snow-covered paths to ensure that people can access nature easily and take different routes so that they're not too close to other guests. But just because you can't hug other people doesn't mean you can't hug anything at all.
It doesn't matter if it's big or small, hugging a tree can help, the forestry service says.
“When you hug [a tree], you feel it first in your toes and then up your legs and into your chest and then up into your head,” enthuses forest ranger Þór Þorfinnsson. “It’s such a wonderful feeling of relaxation and then you’re ready for a new day and new challenges.”
Research on the connection between mental health and nature is still incipient, but there are some hints that hugging trees can actually alleviate stress and give a small boost to our mental wellbeing.
In a time when close contact is discouraged because of the risk of spreading COVID-19, and as it seems that the situation will be like this for a while -- we need all the mental health boosts we can get.
If done properly, enjoying nature can help us ease some stress, while also accommodating social distancing, says Þór (read like Thor), although he does warn against all people hugging the same tree. He recommends that people walk deeper into the forest and enjoy nature as much as possible.
Rangers in Iceland have also marked out intervals of two metres within the forest so that visitors are able to enjoy nature without fear of getting too close to one another.
“It’s recommended that people get outdoors during this horrible time,” says Bergrún Anna Þórsteinsdóttir, an assistant forest ranger at Hallormsstaður. “Why not enjoy the forest and hug a tree and get some energy from this place?”
Þór also has some advice for when you find out the right tree for hugging.
“It’s also really nice to close your eyes while you’re hugging a tree,” he says. “I lean my cheek up against the trunk and feel the warmth and the currents flowing from the tree and into me. You can really feel it.”