blogging, Finland, nature, reading, travel, well-being

Sunshine Blogger Award

The Sunshine Blogger Award is peer recognition for bloggers that inspire positivity and joy.

Thank you Wendy! Happy Midsummer 🌿☀️ from the Northern hemisphere!

My heart is warmed and confidence boosted by this award for which I was nominated by my wonderful fellow blogger and author! You can find her inspirational and fun blog here: Wendy Megget

I was so flattered to receive this award at such early stages of blogging! The timing was perfect to lift my spirits, as I hadn’t been on wordpress for quite a while since my last post. I had to take care of some loose ends in the UK, so flew out for a brief and busy visit. Then the headache that had started there turned into a very long migraine after I returned home to Holland. I felt a bit down as I had only recently started my blog and then had to take to my bed with curtains drawn, so couldn’t keep up the momentum as I’d hoped. I’m back online now though and eager to start writing again by answering Wendy’s questions!

The Rules are:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  • Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
  • Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.
  • List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award in your post/or on your blog.

Below you will see my attempts to answer Wendy’s questions:

1. Who is your loudest cheerleader?

It used to be my grandma, but now she is 95 and her dementia has gotten worse, so she isn’t quite the same although she tries ❤️ Now I would say my husband offers the most encouragement and seems to think I’m capable of almost anything I put my mind to, even though I’m quite aware that I’m not 😂 It’s nice though that he has faith in me. Funnily enough I wouldn’t call either my grandmother or husband ‘loud cheerleaders’, as they are both typically quiet Finnish people 😊 Despite being less vivacious with their praise, what they do say in their typically calm way, I believe is heart felt.

2. What was your first pet?

My very first pet was a tiny golden hamster who I loved dearly as a little girl. In fact my love for it was so deep that when it came to the end of it’s short life, I was inconsolable and cried all night. The next day my mum let me stay home from school, as I hadn’t slept much. I remember that we had a little funeral for him with my little brothers and mother. I even made  a small head-stone from a pebble and we buried him in a tissue box under the apple tree in the back garden. Although this was many years ago I think I remember it so vividly because it was the first death I’d experienced (albeit of a tiny little pet).

3. Where is the most breath-taking place you have ever been?

This is difficult!!! Several places came to mind for very different reasons… Sorry I’m struggling to choose, so I’ll mention two 😉

One of my favourite places is Lake Como, which is a glacial Alpine lake and third largest in Italy. It is just gorgeous and sumptuous with the back drop of mountains and the clear sparkling lake surrounded by elegant, although sometimes slightly run down villas. As a place Como just exudes history and effortless glamour, but also relaxation. You can still find peaceful places to dine and admire the beautiful scenery. It is, however, wise to avoid peak season due to tourists and traffic as the Como area is understandably very popular. Photo from Bellagio which is a beautiful little town on Lake Como

This is from Northern Lake Como where it’s windier so sailing and windsurfing is very popular

The second place very close to my heart is actually in Finland where you can still find unspoilt nature. I have spent many happy summers of childhood in the archipelago of Kustavi and have arranged three-week long holidays there more recently too. The longer stays I think really allow us to put work out of mind and fully de-stress. This level of peace and natural beauty is no longer easy to find in Europe. I just love the forests and islands and feel so lucky to go back there to recharge my batteries as often as I can. I don’t think we can overestimate the therapeutic effects of this type of ‘quiet’, which is truly void of most man made noise.💚

This is a photo from the top of a bedrock hill on a tiny island in Kustavi looking out over further islands of the archipelago on a windless day.

This is from a boat ride in the archipelago

4. If you were going to be stuck on a deserted island with one book to read for years on end, what book would you take?

If I were to be practical, I would take a functional medicine and nutrition manual to help me stay healthy while I have no access to health-care!

If, however, I were to take a book that is dear to me I would take Tove Jansson’s Summer Book. This is a lovely, little and simple but deep book written in a very descriptive and mindful way.  If allowed I would take both the English and Finnish versions just to make sure I keep my two important languages active while in isolation. 😉

5. What is your favourite appliance or tool?

My immersion and normal blenders are very important, as I make lots of smoothies, soups, pesto, humous, nut & bean pastes! The immersion blender will actually come on holidays with me, as I’m lost without. Often holiday rental kitchens are poorly equipped, but I want to ensure I can enjoy  cooking using local produce.

6. What is your favourite dessert?

This question is soo tough, as my response is dependant on mood and season (and how virtuous I’m feeling 😉)! So at the moment I’m loving Strawberries. Even though the season started quite a while ago in the Netherlands, I’m definitely not fed-up yet! I love Britakakku a traditional Finnish summer cake usually made with strawberries. It’s a messy looking casual cake (often the best kind I think), which has alternating layers of delicate sponge, whipped cream, merengue and strawberries sprinkled with lightly toasted almond flakes. It is delicious! I try not to eat too much sugar and have problems with lactose, so I make this as a treat perhaps once a season, otherwise I just enjoy abundant strawberries as they are! I usually make this with lactose free organic cream and unbleached sugar. If I don’t feel like baking then Eton Mess is my go-to easy English dessert, which is basically the same as Britakakku minus the cake and even messier 😂  I believe it’s definitely good to have treats sometimes! 🍓

Above picture is from a popular Finnish cake blog called Taikakakut as I didn’t have a picture of my own and wanted you to see what I meant by Britakakku!

7. What was the most embarrassing moment of your life?

I have several that are too embarrassing to share in public. I’ll mention one which is in-line with a generally recurring theme for me: public speaking and presentations. I’ve had many presentations throughout life. They’re unavoidable when you do a PhD or apply for positions, but they definitely take me out of my comfort zone. One example was in my final year of high-school in Finland, when we had to give a presentation in Finnish class and the teacher chose to use a strange and ‘cruel’ format. We were asked to all stand in a circle with each student taking turns standing alone in the middle and giving their presentation with no notes. It was terrible! I completely froze like a rabbit in headlights and could barely remember my name. I remember hoping to never ever again see any of the other students from that course  afterwards!

8. What is the closest you’ve come to being famous?

I’ve never gotten very close to being famous… The only thing I can think of is that my PhD is printed and available in the British National Library, but that I understand is the norm for a successful PhD thesis. Oh, and the only other thing I can think of is from when I was about 16 and participated in a fashion-show which was televised 😂 The silly things we do when young! So all in all fame has pretty much evaded me and as an introvert I’ve never actively pursued it.

9. What is the strangest thing you’ve done?

Well, in addition to the above mentioned fashion show?! 😂

10. What is your most precious possession?

My home (co-owned with my husband & the bank 😉) is important to me, wherever it is at any given moment. As I mentioned above, I’m an introvert and also a homebody. According to the ‘a homebody is a person who enjoys the warmth and simple pleasures of being at home’. That’s me – I love nesting! My first priority when I move is to create a sanctuary, which I can use as a base to explore my new surroundings and recharge my batteries when I feel tired and depleted from all the new experiences in new environments or new countries. 

11. What is your favourite emoticon and why?

🌿This is my current favourite! I think it’s because I’m really finding nature so healing right now, even more so than before. It may be because I spent the past few years living in big cities. Even though Amsterdam is a very beautiful city and has pretty parks, it’s extremely busy and the population density is high. There are so many people on the narrow streets and canals either on bikes, foot or boats. Extreme tourism adds to the pressure the city is under, but it’s understandable why people want to visit! Prior to that I lived in Wiesbaden in Germany, which is also pretty and although not as big nor as populated as Amsterdam, there are too many cars in my opinion. Germans absolutely love their cars! I hated this, as not only does it make it noisy if you live anywhere near the busy roads (and I did), it also made it more polluted. Now I live in a little village not far from Amsterdam surrounded by nature. Each day I feel so grateful for the woods, lakes & heathland on my doorstep. 

So now it’s my turn to nominate some blogs I really like! I think some may already have received this award, but you are still on my list because you have brought me joy and I would love to hear your responses to my questions (but no pressure). The blogs below vary in content, but what they do have in common is that they bring me joy and inspiration!

Julie Krupp

Improve My Wellbeing

Kirsteen Titchener

Love my Sprouts

My Scandinavian Home

Dream a Little Green with Me

The Wellbeing Blogger

The Manhattan Food Project

Kirsin Book Club

I realise that some of you may not participate in awards, so there is no pressure to join in 😊

I have 11 Questions for my nominees:

  1.  What are you the most grateful for?
  2. If money were not a restriction, where would you live?
  3. Would you choose to have two (or several) homes if you could? Where and why?
  4. What country would you like to travel to next?
  5. Which room in your house is most important to you?
  6. What is your favourite meal to cook at home?
  7. What is your favourite literary genre and/or specific book(s)?
  8. What do you do to recharge your batteries if you’ve had a tough day?
  9. What is your favourite outdoor pursuit?
  10. What do you do to stay healthy?
  11. Do you have a spiritual practice? If you do, can you describe it? 

ecotherapy, nature, psychology, self-help, well-being

Ecotherapy — Forest Bathing

I’ve just returned from another stroll through the woods!! I really felt like I needed to get a bit of fresh air and a good dose of green. It’s such a warm and sunny day, but the forest is wonderfully cooling and refreshing. We’ve recently bought an old house here in Holland, so there’s a lot of renovating to do, like painting walls and installing new floors etc. However, it’s a bit dusty and it’s good to have breaks. Do you ever feel like you need to plunge yourself into nature?

Now-a-days many of us spend much of our time in environments void of natural elements. This has a negative impact on our psychological and physical well-being. There is a continuously growing body of evidence demonstrating that being in nature is very beneficial to our health in various ways. Many of us enjoy nature walks and strolling through woods; we seem to know instinctively that it’s the right thing to do when we get home from a long day at work. When I worked in Cornwall I was lucky in that I usually offered therapy based in Medical Clinics surrounded by countryside. This gave me the option of even having lunch outdoors when the weather was nice and sometimes, if I wasn’t too busy, I even had a short walk in the fields after lunch. When I lived and worked in a city, I did my best to have a walk in the nearby parks before or after my therapy clinics.

Sometimes, however, this instinctive urge to go outdoors may not be as clear to us especially if we are suffering from depression or anxiety. Often this is when we would most benefit from nature, so at these times the best thing to do is just to go out, even if we don’t really feel like it. We need to trust that we will start feeling better gradually by going outdoors regularly. In fact, we now know through scientific research that nature has some well evidenced therapeutic effects on all of us. I certainly feel this personally when I’m going through a stressful period of life and at these times I might even need to almost drag myself outdoors despite all the excuses my mind is making not to go (bad weather, too busy, too tired etc.). The reason I manage to get myself out at times like these, is simply because I know from experience I’ll feel better afterwards. A walk through the woods can allow us to distance ourselves from problems and even gain a different perspective or solution to something that might have been troubling our minds. The woods are soothing in general; I remember during my worst years of teenage angst stomping into my grandparents’ forest and after a while I’d return home much calmer and with less turmoil in my heart. Back then I had no idea I was engaging in Ecotherapy or Shinrin yoku, but I’m so grateful I did have these positive experiences of respite in nature, as I’m sure it made things easier to process back then and also set a good precedent for adulthood.

Ecotherapy is a term used for the psychologically beneficial effects of nature. We also know of it as Nature Therapy & Green therapy. There are many types of ‘being with nature’ that have been found to be supportive of our well-being. Today I’ll talk a little about ‘Forest bathing’, also known as ‘Shinrin-Yoku’, which is one form of ecotherapy. The term Shinrin-Yoku was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982, and can be defined as ‘making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest’. As I mentioned above, there is increasing scientific evidence for the positive impact of nature on our wellbeing. For instance, one Japanese study (1) produced results showing that forest environments promote significantly lower concentrations of cortisol (a stress hormone), lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nervous system activity (responsible for “rest and digest”), and lower sympathetic nervous system activity (responsible for our “fight or flight” reaction)  than do city environments. This type of effect on our nervous system promotes a general sense of psychological wellness and calm. Another study involving several research institutes in Japan (2) found that hostility and depression decreased significantly when people spent the day in the forest. In fact they found that stress levels were related to the magnitude of the Shinrin-Yoku effect. The more stressed people were, the greater the soothing effect of the forest was!

It’s also clear from numerous studies that not only does the forest have a positive impact on us psychologically, it is also physically healing. For instance, walking in a forest, but not an urban area, increases serum levels of didehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) (3). DHEA is said to have cardio-protective, anti-obesity, and anti-diabetic properties (4). Ming Kuo (5) states that regular forest walks could potentially protect against obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease. Kuo also suggests that the forest has a hugely beneficial impact on our immune systems and reviews several studies identifying that walks in forested, but not urban, areas enhance immune functioning. Forest walks appear to boost the number and activity of anti-cancer (so-called “natural killer”) cells and the expression of anti-cancer proteins (6, 7, 8, 9). Another study found that two 2-hour forest walks on consecutive days increased the number and activity of natural killer cells by 50% and 56%, respectively, and activity remained boosted at a significant level (23% higher) even a month after returning to urban life (10). Furthermore, another study indicates that walking in a forest, but not in urban areas, reduces inflammatory cytokines (11).

The above research I’ve briefly mentioned is only a tiny ‘taster’ of all the studies and investigations carried out by numerous scientists across the world about the positive impacts of Forest Bathing on our psychological and physical health. In fact, I could have gotten seriously ‘lost down the rabbit hole’ of this area of research, as it’s truly fascinating! This blog, however, is not the place for a full academic research review 😉 However, I hope this glimpse of all the the health benefits provided to us by woods and forests has motivated you to do a little of your own reading on the subject. Better yet, I hope to have inspired you to get out there and enjoy your local woods or a leafy park. However, please don’t despair if you haven’t got easy access to trees, as it appears that the positive impact of Shinrin-Yoku lasts for a whole month. Maybe you could even plan a weekend nature get-away with your friends or a loved one!!

Finally, I would just like to add that being in nature allows us to practice Mindfulness with more ease. It may require less effort to stay in the present moment when we are surrounded by the natural environment, as it anchors us into the ‘now’ through all of our senses. For the purposes of this article I won’t discuss mindfulness further, instead I’ll leave that for another time hopefully in the near future!

Maybe you already practice Forest Bathing or some other type of Ecotherapy? I’d love to hear about what you find helpful!

Works cited:

  1. Park BJ, Tsunetsugu Y., Kasetani T., Kagawa T., Miyazaki Y. (2010). The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environ. Health Prev. Med. 15(1),18-26.
  2. Morita E., Fukuda S., Nagano J., Hamajima N., Yamamoto H., Iwai Y., Nakashima T., Ohira H., Shirakawa T. (2007). Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction. Public Health. 121 (1), 54-63.
  3. Li Q., Otsuka T., Kobayashi M., Wakayama Y., Inagaki H., Katsumata M., et al. (2011). Acute effects of walking in forest environments on cardiovascular and metabolic parameters. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 111, 2845–2853.
  4. Bjørnerem A., Straume B., Midtby M., Fønnebø V., Sundsfjord J., Svartberg J., et al. (2004). Endogenous sex hormones in relation to age, sex, lifestyle factors, and chronic diseases in a general population: the Tromso Study. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 89, 6039–6047.
  5. Kuo, M. (2015). How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway. Frontiers in Psychology. 6, 1093.
  6. Li, Q., Morimoto, K., Nakadai, A., Inagaki, H., Katsumata, M., Shimizu, T., … & Kawada, T. (2007). Forest bathing enhances human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology. 20 (Suppl 2), 3-8.
  7. Li, Q., Morimoto, K., Kobayashi, M., Inagaki, H., Katsumata, M., Hirata, Y., … & Krensky, A. M. (2008a). Visiting a forest, but not a city, increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology. 21, 117-127.
  8. Li, Q., Morimoto, K., Kobayashi, M., Inagaki, H., Katsumata, M., Hirata, Y., … & Miyazaki, Y. (2008b). A forest bathing trip increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins in female subjects. Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents. 22, 45-55.
  9. Li Q., Kobayashi M., Inagaki H., Hirata Y., Hirata K., Li Y. J., et al. (2010). A day trip to a forest park increases human natural killer activity and the expression of anti-cancer proteins in male subjects. J. Biol. Regul. Homeost. Agents. 24, 157–165. 
  10. Li, Q. 2010. Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine. 15(1): 9–17.
  11. Mao G., Cao Y., Lan X., He Z., Chen Z., Wang Y., et al. (2012). Therapeutic effect of forest bathing on human hypertension in the elderly. J. Cardiol. 60, 495–502.