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B.C. health-care workers offered free 'forest bathing' to relieve COVID-19 stress

Forest therapy, also known as forest bathing, helps participants connect with the natural world, advocates say. (Courtesy B.C. Parks Foundation)
Summary

B.C. Parks Foundation raising money to provide free 'forest bathing' sessions to health-care workers

Nurses and doctors need to destress: foundation CEO Andy Day

90-minute session can melt stress way, reground participants: guide

PARKSVILLE (NEWS 1130) – As a registered nurse at an urgent care centre in Parksville, Brett Restemeyer has seen the effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the mental wellbeing of his community.

“What I’m noticing is people are anxious and stressed. Whether or not they’re coming in for something serious or not, everyone seems to be amped up on a different level right now than I’ve ever seen in my career,” he said.

But the patients aren’t the only ones feeling the pressure. Nurses and doctors are anxious too, Restemeyer said.

‘This is a lot different than a hike in the woods’

“As health-care providers, you carry stress around with you. It builds up through the day. You’ve just gotta find a way to deal with it.”

Soon, there will be a novel way for frontline workers like Restemeyer to decompress.

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The B.C. Parks Foundation is fundraising to provide free “forest bathing” sessions to health-care workers across the province starting in January.

Also known as “guided nature therapy” or “forest therapy,” the practice aims to help participants appreciate and notice aspects of the natural world around they might otherwise miss.

“I know a lot of people say, ‘Go for a hike; it’s the same thing.’ This is a lot different than a hike in the woods,” said Restemeyer, who is a trained forest therapy guide planning to provide the service as a side job to nursing.

Fundraiser aims to help nurses, doctors

The B.C. Parks Foundation has started a crowdfunding campaign, hoping to raise $25,000. It says a $25 donation pays for a 90-minute session for one health-care worker.

Donators can pick a specific nurse or family physician to give a session to, or leave it open to someone they don’t know.

The foundation has previously raised $3 million to protect land near Princess Louisa Inlet on the Sunshine Coast and $1.7 million to protect West Ballenas Island in the Salish Sea.

The foundation has turned its attention to the pandemic, looking for its place in addressing the crisis, CEO Andy Day said.

“We realized in talking to health-care workers that what they really needed most was stress relief,” Day said.

The pandemic has forced the sessions to go virtual, with guides using Zoom calls to lead small groups of attendees.

While forest bathing is often used to get people away from technology, Day said he participated this week by simply calling in using a single earbud and he found it “more powerful” than his previous in-person experience.

The virtual sessions also allow participants to ground themselves in their immediate surroundings, including their backyard or nearby park, he said.

“It’s one of those things that people just have to experience,” Day said.

After forest sessions, ‘stress drains away’

Ronna Schneberger, a nature therapist with four years of experience, said she’s looking forward to helping health-care workers.

“I’m deeply concerned about their health and wellbeing, and I know they’re burnt out. So I’m just really grateful that hopefully a whole bunch of people will donate and we can take a whole bunch of health-care workers out and give back to them because they’ve been giving so hard,” she said.

Schneberger said overworked frontline workers would likely benefit greatly from a simple 90-minute session of forest therapy.

“In an hour and a half, most people feel like their feet are on the ground, they’re back in their bodies, they’ve got an energy boost, they’ve got that clarity,” she said. “Stress drains away.”