By Chris Croll
Two Japanese trends aimed at helping people manage stress are popping up in social discussions all around Loudoun County. One practice relates to reducing the stress of a cluttered home and the other involves leaving the home altogether.
If the name Marie Kondo makes you smile or cringe, you’ve probably seen the new Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant, believes that decluttering your personal spaces significantly reduces stress. Kondo’s motto is, “Tidy your space, transform your life.” Her method of organizing, known as the KonMari Method, consists of gathering together all of one’s belongings, one category at a time, and keeping only those things that “spark joy.” Once your pile of stuff has been pared down, Kondo recommends finding a dedicated place for each item. Kondo goes on to suggest that before you dispose of items that don’t spark joy, you should “thank” the items for their service. Kondo visits different American family homes on the Netflix series to give advice on how each family should tidy up. The KonMari Method can also be applied to cleaning your office, car, storage shed and other high-clutter spaces.
Another stress management trend from the land of the rising sun is shinrin yoku, translated as “forest bathing.” With benefits like reducing blood pressure, improving cardiovascular health, lowering blood sugar levels, improving concentration, lifting depression, improving pain tolerance, boosting the immune system and decreasing anxiety, forest bathing is a way for Loudouners to lower their stress levels by going for a walk in one of the many parks or forests nearby. The concept of forest bathing stems from the idea that because we humans evolved in nature, we have a biological need to connect with it. Although walking anywhere outside has scientifically been proven to reduce anxiety and depression, walking among trees, specifically, has been proven to have a positive effect on fatigue, vigor and reducing stress. A mere 20-minute walk in the woods is enough time to start feeling the benefits. A two-hour stroll provides maximum effect. In Japan there are 62 different parks and forests designated as healing places, each with features aimed at healing specific issues. The Japanese recommend that when you forest bathe, you do so without a phone, camera, music or any other distractions. The goal is to engage in mindfulness as you walk – being fully present in the moment without any expectations for an outcome. Mindfulness involves focusing on sensory inputs; what are you hearing, smelling and seeing? What do you feel when you touch a tree or the earth? What does the fresh air taste like as you breathe it in?
While walking is ideal, you can also experience the benefits of forest bathing by sitting on a bench or on the ground among the trees. Making keen observations can further help reduce stress. In one study, researchers found that by looking at fractal patterns in nature, such as tree branches against the sky or leaf patterns on the ground, participants reduced their stress levels by as much as 60 percent.
Since the average American spends 93 percent of his or her time indoors, stepping out into nature is often overlooked as method to help manage the daily worries of life. Doctors in the U.S. are starting to prescribe spending time in nature, or “green time,” to combat screen time. Since we do spend so much time indoors, decluttering our personal spaces can minimize feelings of being overwhelmed with the mess. Both the KonMari Method and shinrin yoku are ways to help you manage stress. At no cost and minimal inconvenience, why not try these two natural remedies? They might be just what the doctor ordered.
Chris Croll is a parenting consultant specializing in educating and raising gifted and twice-exceptional children. She leads the National Center for Gifted Services and the nonprofit Loudoun County Parents of Gifted Students, and is a member of the Loudoun County School Board.