The Law of Unintended Consequences

I was going to call this column “Isolation in the Land of Plenty”, but something changed during my self-quarantine—I started to enjoy it. This is brave to say, given the current climate of fear and panic buying, but I have begun to welcome the enforced pause in our frantic, frenetic lives. It’s as if someone pushed the ‘restart’ button on the world—“just turn it off and turn it on again.”

I know most of you have just begun and are probably going mad, so I’m in a unique position to give you this advice because I’ve been in self quarantine for about three weeks.

My husbands entire tour of China and Japan was cancelled (China first, then Japan) but before that, ever since that first piece of news from Wuhan in January (just one quick high-speed bullet train ride to his show in Shanghai) I’ve kept my eye on its advance.

When my husband strolled through San Francisco customs back from his cancelled shows in Japan on the first day of March, he saw no health screening security measures at the airport. He told me about it when I picked him up and I knew we had to self-quarantine.

So, when I tell you that this close time I’m spending with my husband is sacred and precious, and I appreciate it because it may never come again, I know. He travels a lot, or did. I worked a lot, or did. But lately we have been each other’s only source of entertainment outside of the internet. He can’t get away and I can’t get away, so here we are, together. Of course I wish we had our children here, too, but that would be a different experience than this timeless, intimate day to day existence.

It feels like a dream, like we somehow stepped out of an action film and now we are sitting in the audience, in comfy reclining chairs, watching the rest of the movie.

Parents are locked in their houses with their children and at first it feels insane, but once you snap to the fact that there is literally nowhere to go you can finally relax and stop running. As one young mother put it, “Today, I found myself very grateful. We made huge messes and watched way too much TV and didn’t get out of our pajamas until 4:00 p.m. Like just about every other parent in the world, i’ve had a difficult week, but the less I try to control our days, the more enjoyable they’re becoming.”

So, in this insane time, isn’t that the silver lining?

Forest Bathing

“Of all the paths you take in life, be sure some of them are dirt.”~ John Muir
‘Nature-deficit disorder’ . It’s a new term for an old malady—didn’t our grandmothers tell us to “go outside and get some fresh air”? As humans we belong in nature, of course. What is new is the that human beings (especially children) are spending more and more time in an artificially constructed civilization, created to hold us safely away from nature—artificial air, artificial light, and less and less time outdoors. Researchers now believe this results in a plethora of physical and emotional health and behavioral problems, or ‘Nature-deficit disorder’.

The more our society becomes dependent on technology the less we schedule for nature, and the more we need it. But we are all busy people, especially those of us who live and work in the city, so we need to know a magic number, the perfect amount of time to spend in nature, to counteract the negative effects of an artificially constructed civilization.

The answer is: 2 hours a week—-anything less showed no appreciable benefit .

A study of 20,000 people at the University of Exeter found that people who spent at least two hours a week (they didn’t need to be consecutive) in safe green spaces walking, exercising, jogging, hiking, or just sitting, felt better health and psychological well-being than those who didn’t.

Now we’re starting to see businesses all over the world incorporating nature into their work campuses. Therapists in Japan are even prescribing ‘Forest bathing‘ (a phrase coined by Dr. Qing Li) to their patients as an antidote to depression.

Time in nature can heal our stress, lower our blood pressure, enhance our immune system function, increase our self-esteem, reduce depression, anxiety, and confusion, fights fatigue and increases energy and vitality, Increases production of NK cells which destroy cancer and bacterial infections in the body, Increases sense of intuition and and improve our mood.

Time spent in nature reduces feelings of isolation and promotes a sense of calm and well-being. It’s easy to get started. The key to effective forest bathing is: Be mindful of the present moment.. Go to a forest (or woods). Walk slowly and mindfully. Breathe deeply. Open your mind and body to your senses. What sights and sounds are you experiencing? Absorb these sensations and simply be aware of them.

2 hours a week—that’s it.