Iceland's forestry service is encouraging citizens to hug trees for five minutes a day to help them during isolation. It may seem like a strange practice but research suggests it could help people feel better.
One of the most difficult parts of social distancing and self-isolation is the prolonged physical separation. As lockdown continues we miss the hugs. We miss physical touch. And it's especially hard for those who are quarantining alone. As these feelings of loneliness and isolation grow, Iceland has responded by encouraging people to hug trees.
Rangers from the country's forestry service are advising people to spend five minutes a day hugging a tree in one of the country's national parks. "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," Þór Þorfinnsson, the forest manager for East Iceland, told the RÚV public broadcaster. "It's such a wonderful feeling of relaxation, and then you're ready for a new day and new challenges."
Indeed, research shows that trees really do have healing powers. The Japanese practice of forest bathing or shinrin-yoku became part of Japan's national health programme in 1982. Essentially it means to immerse yourself in nature, and is embraced by doctors around the world as a way to combat stress and improve health. One of the theories behind it proposes that phytoncides, the chemicals emitted from trees, could have a physiological effect on stress levels.
Iceland's forestry service has uploaded several photos on its website to act as a visual guide for tree hugging (people are encouraged to hug different trees). The agency has also cut paths through the snow at Hallormsstaður in East Iceland to make the trees more accessible, as well as widening paths so that hikers can observe the two-metre social distancing rule.
"Why not come and enjoy the forest, where you can hug the trees and just get the energy from this area," Bergrun Arna Thorsteinsdottir, a senior ranger at the Hallormsstaður National Forest told RUV.