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Freeze, Flee or Surrender?

If you disturb a deer while walking in the woods, the first thing it will do is freeze, lick its

nose, and twitch its ears or tail, in that order. If your next move is towards it and it feels threatened, it will flee, and if possible, it will always head uphill.

These predictable behaviours we see in the natural world are called 'induced vigilance'. It is a natural response that an animal has when aware of a threat. As fellow members of the animal kingdom, we have a similar reaction but with a slightly different name, 'human vigilance'.

Our brains evolved to be acutely aware of potential threats and dangers; it is partly responsible for our extended survival on this lovely yet sometimes dangerous planet.

However, a lot has changed since we roamed the forest with our friend, the deer.

The most dangerous predator we now face is an oversized 4-wheel drive moving erratically down a narrow lane. But we face many new threats that induce a high level of vigilance each day.

The culprits include 24-hour media coverage, perfectionism, digital marketing, social media and technological advancements so rapid that our evolving brain and body can't adapt or keep up. On top of that, we have a job to attend to, children to nourish and nurture, a mortgage to pay, ever-rising energy bills, an unrelenting virus knocking at our doors, and we mustn't forget the small matter of the ecological crisis! So if you feel exhausted, overwhelmed and overworked, it's probably because you're living in a permanent state of vigilance, and our brains didn't evolve with this in mind.

It sometimes feels like we are on a perpetual loop of surviving through each day, but there is something very simple and very accessible that can help: NATURE.

Nature helps to control stress and deal with pain because we are genetically programmed to find trees, plants, water, and other natural elements engrossing. In one study by Mind, 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside, changing from depressed, stressed, and anxious to more calm and balanced.

If we are to feel the full benefits of nature, we need to release the stresses that everyday life has on us and surrender to our senses, to being with nature and to reconnecting with our authentic self. To do this, we need to feel safe and cared for, know that we are with people we trust, and have no expectations placed on us so we can shed the labels that everyday life places on us. For some people, this is not easy, they feel vulnerable when alone in nature. This is when the comfort of a group and a guide can be the difference between improving their wellbeing or being stuck in hyper vigilance.

Forest bathing can provide individuals or small groups a gateway into a safe place where they can engage their senses and reconnect with nature without the pressures of modern society and everyday life. A Forest Bathing guide is skilled at holding safe space and helping people rekindle their innate relationship with the natural world. They create a space where you can leave behind your heightened state of vigilance and find that place of peace that we all need to thrive and be healthy in this world, and you never know, you may also get that incredible encounter with a beautiful deer.

Surrender is one of the three principles of Forest Bathing (along with Joy and Love). A Forest Bathing Guided Walk encourages you to leave behind your worries and stresses and immerse yourself in nature by mindfully engaging all of your senses.

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