Most of us can, and do, tolerate stress in our daily lives – from raising kids and caring for elders to working a job we’d rather not spend our life energy on. We may feel we have little control over the challenges we face, and less and less time to make good decisions about our health or well-being.
And we’re in this together, one nation of stressed out people.
Even if we don’t consider ourselves stressed (come on, really?), many of us sit in front of computer screens all day in jobs that require intense concentration. Even commuting to and fro by car can require intense focus. And that’s another kind of stress.
More often than not, this shows up in our mouths. While most people deny that they clench their teeth, most of us do. Don’t believe it? There’s a simple way to check. Stick out your tongue in front of a mirror. Do you see lacy scallops on its edges? If so, you’re likely clenching your teeth without even knowing it.
Clenching can contribute to headaches, neck pain, and dental issues including TMJ, fractured teeth, and tooth mobility.
Certainly, there are lots of ways to treat dental issues that arise from clenching and grinding (a/k/a bruxing). We can provide relief from symptoms, with or without oral appliance therapy.
But you have the power to improve things, too. Better manage the stress in your life, and many stress-related symptoms can disappear.
The Japanese seem to have found an easy and enjoyable way to reduce stress with a practice known as shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. This is the practice of walking through the forest alone or with others to metaphorically “bathe” in green space, to let nature surround you. It provides an opportunity to be in nature with no requirements, just to be with the trees.
After a powerful health benefit of forest bathing was determined, it was officially adopted into Japan’s national health program in 1982.
Proving this is no woo practice, Japan has designated almost 50 nature trails for shinrin-yoku, with plans to double that number over 10 years. It has also spent $4 million on research to determine the specific health benefits.
Make no mistake, the benefits are real. A 2010 study out of Chiba University studied 280 participants as they went into the woods for a half-hour forest bath. Its authors found that even a short trip to the forest lowered blood pressure and heart rate. They noted that taking in the forest, compared with walking in the city, decreased cortisol, a stress hormone, production by 12.4%. They also found an increase in parasympathetic nerve activity and a decrease in sympathetic nerve activity, indicating relaxation.
Perhaps we, too, can find relief from stress and intense concentration – a simple walk in nature, where we let it wash over us and through us, like a magical healing balm that can unclench the knots in our minds, hearts, and, yes, even our jaws.
Image by Martin Gommel