Forest Bathing, Nature Deficit Disorder…

Forest Bathing, Nature Deficit Disorder,

and other phrases I absolutely did not learn in grad school


“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau (Walden)


Walden, Henry David Thoreau’s book about spending two full years living alone in the Massachusetts woods, has always fascinated me. As a teen in English class I remember being perplexed at how lonely and taxing it must be to just be with oneself in the woods for such a length of time. Now, pushing into my 30’s at warp speed with responsibilities snowballing by the minute, I can absolutely see the allure of some time with my own thoughts and a cabin.

What is it, though, about the outdoors that can be so beneficial? How does it affect our overall wellness? Have we been missing out on something important as our society continues to develop in a way that has us indoors at increasing intervals?

Since I could not very well sit and chat with Thoreau himself to learn more about the biopsychosocial benefits of being in nature, I did the next best thing: I called up my friend Kelly.

(Listen to our full conversation here)

Kelly Coble could be described as many things: intelligent, kind, & passionate—all worthy characteristics of a promising clinical mental health counselor. Unique to her field, however, is Kelly’s distinct interest in capitalizing on the benefits of nature as part of her future counseling practice.

Kelly attributes her personal interest in this topic to a combined love for the outdoors and a desire to provide hands-on support for individuals seeking to grow within the counseling experience.

She first became interested in wilderness therapy as a career path when she and one of her college roommates were watching Survivor one evening, and a contestant shared about her own work in the wilderness therapy field.

For Kelly, her next professional steps were obvious after that night. And though she had been currently working in a research capacity and assumed her professional life would continue that trajectory, Kelly decided pretty quickly that she would pursue counseling—and specifically, counseling with a twist of the outdoors.

It turns out that Kelly is not the only professional with an increasing interest in this topic.

In the past few years, a wealth of studies have been conducted on nature’s health benefits in an effort to quantify how much outdoor time begins to yield positive results in a person’s life. Many of us feel different and lighter after time outside, but what exactly is happening biologically, and how can other people recreate these effects?

An online Yale article from 2020 cites a study of 20,000 people that deemed 2 hours of green space per week is the magic cut-off point at which individuals begin to see results in mental, emotional, physical and relational health [6]. Any less that 2 hours a week provided no benefits whatsoever.

The Yale article also quotes Richard Louv, well-known author of the book The Last Child in the Woods and coiner of the phrase Nature Deficit Disorder [4], as saying that the research on this topic has leapt from 60 to about 1000 credible studies since his work began in 2005 [5].

This research is likewise beginning to inform both local and large-scale policies. People are craving the outdoors; the helping field, as well as policymakers, are beginning to take note. Terms such as “forest schools,” “park deserts,” and “sit spots” are becoming commonplace terms that were unheard of a few short years ago (see definitions list below for discussion of these terms).

The Trust for Public Lands has created a campaign entitled Ten Minute Walk, boasting a plan to ensure that every neighborhood in the United States has access to green spaces within-you guessed it—a 10 minute walk of their homes [5]. This effort is meant to decrease the number of park deserts (communities lacking a green space) nationwide.

It has also been noted that the up-and-coming generation is prioritizing green spaces when seeking real-estate and educational spaces for their children.

The numbers and studies are clear: people want their nature, and as Louv points out, “Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function” [5].

So what exactly are these health benefits we are all raving about?

The short answer is that pretty much every area of wellness is positively impacted by increased exposure to the natural world; time outside equals positive effects on ones’ quality of life. Even positive self-esteem makes the list. Kelly’s take on self-esteem from nature is that

I feel small (in the outdoors), but I also remember that the God who made THAT made me.

Such a bigger-than-self response and outlook on the world can not only boost self-esteem, but also provide a sense of calm and connectedness, which is one goal that ecopsychology (the study of human’s relationships to the earth) seeks to pursue.

According to the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides, “health benefits attributed to forest therapy include boosted immune function, improved cardiovascular and respiratory health, attention restoration and a reduction in stress and depression” [1].

For an aesthetically pleasing overview of these benefits, I’d encourage you to take a couple minutes to watch the following short video by Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix, for a quick introduction into the body’s natural, positive response to spending time outside [7]. Williams asserts that even a short time outside can boost creativity and productivity later on in the day, and even increase feelings of connectedness to other people in your life.

The Nature Fix – What Happens When You Spend Just 5 Minutes in Nature?

Another resource is this website dedicated to the practice and research of forest bathing (which simply means spending time engulfed in a wooded area), with a webpage listing over 20 different studies discussing forest/nature bathing’s effect on areas such as attentiveness, stress reduction, self-discipline, mood improvement, cardiovascular performance, and more.

While stress reduction and other obvious benefits to being outside are all well and good, my favorite, and most intriguing, health benefit from nature was first introduced to me by Kelly during our conversation together.

Exposure to nature literally boosts the immune system.

I immediately had to look this up after hearing about it from Kelly, and the facts check out. The science behind this claim is as such: The air we breathe in the presence of trees and plants includes chemicals called phytoncides—which are essentially protections that trees emit to deter insects. These chemicals not only help plants fight disease and ward off bugs, but, when they are inhaled by humans, our bodies respond by increasing white blood cells that kill tumors and viruses. Research is currently being completed to determine if phytoncides can even prevent cancer of some kinds [3].

Great. But how can I make outdoor time happen for myself?

Another highlight of my chat with Kelly was her description of her open-ended time in the woods each week.


“I take my time. I go In and if I feel like running I’m going to run. If I feel like walking I’m going to walk. If I feel like turning around I’m going to turn around; I don’t worry about the mileage. If I feel like sitting on a log and watching a bug, that is what I do…

My life is so structured. I have ADHD…all day long, every day, I am forcing myself to accomplish tasks and get through these things like reading textbooks and writing papers, which are not my strong suits, and are hard.

[Being out in the woods] is like letting your inner child out to go and play, almost. I just do whatever I feel like doing, which is awesome. We don’t get to do that very much in that sort of way.”

Kelly’s weekly time in the woods is so striking to me because, unlike most activities in our adult worlds, it is an opportunity to be unstructured and unpressured. Kelly meets herself in the woods in the way that she best needs in that day. It is an antidote to the pressures of daily life—which honestly reminds me a lot of the theories of play therapy. Nature is an adult space to make sense of your world in a non-judgmental, unassuming atmosphere.

Kelly has some practical tips below for getting outside, even for people who live surrounded by concrete, or in a park desert. But honestly, my biggest tip is to just begin. Step outside between tasks at work. Pause on the way to your car to feel the temperature of the air and note the noises that are different than your indoor experience.

Pause. Feel. Be.

And somewhere out there one day, maybe you will happen upon my friend Kelly talking to a bug.

Practical tips from Kelly Coble to get yourself outside:

“Everyone can start somewhere with the accessibility of nature.”

  • Even a paved trail is a trail. You don’t have to be an experienced, rugged hiker to “go on a hike.”
  • The app All Trails can tell you the nearest trail to your current location
  • Grow and care for some indoor plants!
  • Trying to catch up on your favorite show? Watch it outside! Find ways to take your indoor relaxation time on a field trip to the outdoors
  • Allow the experience to be open-ended
  • If you must, create an artificial experience that still has some health benefits. Even things ASSOCIATED with nature can trigger that stress reduction response (examples: candles that smell like natural scents, videos of nature, sounds of birds or a cool stream).
  • Try watching the series on Disney plus called “Earth Moods”. Have it playing in the background while you complete indoor tasks
  • Open windows, open blinds
  • Take breaks from screens

Words to Define:

Ecopsychology- the study of people’s relationship to the natural world around them; seeks to restore that relationship to its intended equilibrium

Nature Deficit Disorder – a term coined by Richard Louv, meaning a lack of exposure to the natrual world, resulting in a variety of biological and psychological disturbances in the human experience

Forest/ Nature Bathing – immersion of self and senses in an outdoor environment.

Sit Spot- a person’s chosen place to forest/nature bathe

Wilderness Therapy- a therapeutic intervention involving immersion in outdoor spaces to treat maladaptive behaviors. Encourages adaptability and endurance in clients

Adventure Therapy- similar to wilderness therapy, a therapeutic intervention involving challenging outdoor activities meant to treat maladaptive behaviors.

Park Deserts- a community or environment lacking in green space for activities and outdoor play

Forest Schools- a primary school operating largely outdoors in order to foster play and exploration of the natural world for children



  1. Association of nature and forest therapy guides and programs. Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2022, from
  2. Home – Forest bathing central forest bathing shinrin-yoku resource. Forest Bathing Central. (2020, June 9). Retrieved March 26, 2022, from
  3. Immerse yourself in a forest for better health. NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2022, from
  4. Louv, R. (2008). Last child in the woods. Algonquin Books.
  5. Robbins, J. (2020, January 9). Ecopsychology: How immersion in nature benefits your health. Yale E360. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from
  6. White, M. P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J., Wheeler, B. W., Hartig, T., Warber, S. L., Bone, A., Depledge, M. H., & Fleming, L. E. (2019, June 13). Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Nature News. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from
  7. Williams, F. (n.d.). The nature fix. Florence Williams. Retrieved March 26, 2022, from


10 Tips for Measuring Personal Growth

I was never particularly good at science fairs; I just wasn’t. No matter how perfectly I followed the formula of steps to get seeds to grow in the kitchen windowsill or mold to appear on a piece of bread in my mom’s bathroom, the processes just never worked for me, and I always emerged from my struggle with a less-than-thrilling tri-fold cardboard summary of my failed attempts.

Sometimes, I wonder if this is how many of us experience the process of tracking our areas of personal growth. We do the right things. We start with fervor. We document, document, document, but somewhere along the way the process just doesn’t seem to work for us.

After a few applications of this pattern, it is understandable how we can easily find ourselves feeling discouraged and disinterested in trying again.

One of my theories about this phenomenon is that maybe we often start with a well-intended and curated plan, but do not fully account for failures, hiccups, and barriers to success before beginning the journey. When the plan doesn’t work or unforeseen challenges arise, we often give up altogether, or continue to haphazardly work a plan that doesn’t logistically work for our individual needs.

So, unfortunately, we show up (about March, if this is a New Year’s Resolution), with our sad little tri-fold cardboard summaries, throw our hands in the air, and try again next year.

Another theory I have about measuring personal progress is that we often fail to take into account the diversities of our individual strengths, weaknesses, temperaments, time constraints, and personalities.

We want a simple mold for achievement that we saw in action elsewhere to be a magic bullet for us, too.

This magic-bullet vein of thinking, however attractive it may be, is preposterous. The formula for success that my friend uses to read 30 books in a year cannot possibly be the exact same formula for success that my husband uses to keep our yard and garden flourishing. While they can each learn from the other, it is imperative that my husband and my friend establish their own ways of operating toward their goals.

Consider our influencer culture for a moment; people make entire livings through publicly sharing how they dress, build businesses, craft, make sourdough bread, and shape their eyebrows. And while these accounts can be incredibly helpful, encouraging, and informative, we often forget to account for flexibility when we seek to imitate these blueprints for success.

We are simply not destined to all have the same eyebrows or business plans. And that is really, really okay.

Maybe we can try some new strategies…

10 Tips for Measuring Long-Term Personal Growth

1. Utilize a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data

Let’s be honest. Data is such a boring word. It truly sends my heart straight into my stomach and reminds me of those science fair days the moment that I hear it. But in reality, data is something we are constantly, subconsciously collecting every day about the world around us. When tracking data toward a personal goal, we are simply being more intentional about documenting the data that is happening so that we can better witness our own progress.

Ben Sands of Sands Leadership writes that “metrics both guide our decision making and fuel our performance. In life, as is in business, the same thing holds true: metrics matter” [6] (Emphasis added).

One of the most important tips when tracking data toward a personal goal is to make sure that some of your data is quantitative (meaning it can be counted), and some is qualitative (it is based on more of an expression or feeling).

Without attunement to qualitative data, it is easy to feel discouraged, or “miss the forest for the trees” (see #8 on this list). But without quantitative data, it is difficult to have certainty that the needle is changing toward your overall goal. Both are vitally important.

2. Be okay with measuring differently than when you began.

You do not have to be particularly married to a certain way of measuring your progress just because that is how you started. If you find that what you are currently doing is not helping, do something different! You have not failed if you change what or how you are measuring. It could be that this is part of the process for you to fine-tune the directions you need to take to achieve the overall goal.

One of the articles I found on this subject suggests that it is important to “think of alternative routes to get to the end goal. By coming up with secondary plans, you’re less likely to be hard on yourself for missed opportunities or taking breaks.” [7]

Even counselors measure growth differently according to what theory of counseling they practice. For example, one counselor may believe that helping a client increase insight is the gateway to change, while another believes that challenging ones’ unhelpful thoughts is what creates lasting change. Chances are, you could find considerable progress with both of these counselors, despite the theoretical underpinnings of their practice.

Different ways of measuring progress points can lead to the same achievements.

3. Find ways to make the process fun and fulfilling.

A friend in college introduced me to the thrill of writing down things you’ve already done on your to-do list for the sheer enjoyment of crossing them off. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t still use this trick to find confidence while staring down a to-do list the length of my arm.

What makes measuring your progress fun for you? Stickers? Dry erase markers on your bathroom mirror? Find something that truly motivates you to continue seeing the physical representation of the hard work you have completed.

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, suggests using a tool called the “paper clip strategy” [1]. It is a simple but powerful practice. To begin, you only need two jars, one full of paper clips (or colorful beads, dry beans, etc). Each time a task is completed toward a goal, move a paperclip over to the second jar. This is not only a fulfilling way to measure consistency, but it helps measure tasks toward a goal that may not be obviously quantifiable.

I once heard a speaker discuss using the paperclip method to help her “become more daring.” Every time she did something that was courageously outside her comfort zone, like agreeing to speak at a conference, she moved a bead over. Eventually she was able to quantifiably state that “I am more daring than before,” because the measurable data was present in her jar even on days she did not necessarily feel daring.

4. Avoid placing too much reliance on informal, casual feedback from others

It is easy to give credence to the voices around you as they recognize the progress you have made, or even not made. You may be working toward a goal for months, fully aware of your growth and feeling confident in your progress, before another person ever visibly recognizes it.

While recognition can feel encouraging, it is important to remember that someone else’s comments, or the lack thereof, are not a measuring stick for how well you are truly doing.

5. Remember that the data is not your identity. This process of growth is not the summation of who you are.

Ouch. Here is a tough one. I would suggest being careful not to become so consumed with measuring data toward your goals that you forget that your value and worth does not live or die on the success or failure of this one point of growth.

6. Growth is not always linear. Measuring your consistency instead of results can help move you through the disappointing seasons.

“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones… It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.” -Confucius

While some goals are easily defined quantifiably, such as how much weight a person can bench press, or how many minutes it takes a barista to make a latte, others are not as easily defined or measured. Goals such as “reading a wider range of novels” or “being less judgmental” may be harder to track.

Whatever the goal, however, one thing that can always be tracked is consistency.

Omar Itani, writer and creator of The Optimist newsletter, often shares of Jerry Seinfeld’s suggestions for getting better at a task [3]. He simply says,

Don’t Break the Chain.

It is as simple as marking Xs on a calendar for every day you complete a task toward your goal. For Jerry Seinfeld, the task is to write. Every day that he writes he receives an X. Eventually, the desire to keep the chain going becomes incredibly compelling. And over time, all of that writing (or whatever your task may be) pays off in increasingly observable ways. Measuring consistency is simple, but the results can be life-changing.

7. Measure the “gain and not the gap”

Another mindset shift Omar Itani recommends practicing is one coined by Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach [3]. Sullivan suggests that, when a person measures “the gain and not the gap,” the encouragement of recognizing how far one has come (the gain) is more motivating to continue than the realization of how far is left to go (the gap).

Itani beautifully summarizes this strategy by explaining that, when one continually focuses on the gap, “what you choose to pursue will constantly elude you because your ideal is a natural moving target” [3].

I guess my college friend and his previously-completed to-do list was onto something. There is great power in the celebration of growth that has already come to fruition. This celebration can often motivate us more than the self-abasement of only focusing on the work left to do.

8. Be careful not to lose the forest for the trees

When practicing data-collecting and progress-tracking toward a goal, it can be enticing to become hyper-focused on the task of tracking itself, instead of the overall goal.

As an eating disorder professional, I have seen this become a great concern in individuals who become so committed to a certain way of tracking meals, exercise, or even meditative practices, that they lose sight of the overall goal of wellness, and have trouble separating themselves from certain tracking methods.

The focus can suddenly become so strengthened on meticulous tracking, that emotional, social, and mental health fall by the wayside.

Another common example of this is adherence to a Yearly Bible Reading Plan (which of course is a fantastic habit, in and of itself). It is easy to fall into a sudden focus on rushing through the content, therefore missing the overall goal of gaining spiritual understanding and nearness to the Lord.

Whatever your goal is, this trap is a dangerous one, but periodic evaluation of your overall intent for measuring growth, as well as discussions with a trusted confidant, can help you remain focused on why you initially began tracking personal growth data.

9. Refrain from the temptation to attempt changing every habit at once: keep it simple!

Trust me; you don’t need a 40-page business plan for how you will overhaul your life in 2 weeks. Habits, by nature, occur over time by implementing simple practices, consistently.

I am reminded of the barre class I enjoy, in which we utilize light weights with high repetitions to achieve strength in isolated muscle groups. I always enjoy observing new clients (not to call them out, but they are usually male) come in and choose the heaviest weight they can find, only to recognize that the goal is not to overhaul your muscles to exhaustion in a few repetitions, but to gradually build them toward strength through many repetitions of lighter-weight resistance. Usually, by the end of the class, let’s just say these new clients have a new appreciation for the patience and power of the light weights.

This is the kind of lasting strength that sneaks up on a person: one that is gained by small applications of repetition and consistency over time.

10. Be comfortable being bored.

Our friend James Clear writes about meeting an Olympic coach who once mentioned that the most successful athletes are the ones who practice boredom [2]. They are individuals who have passion, of course, but are also willing to continue showing up for the everyday workouts on the days that the passion has dwindled.

“At some point,” the coach said, “it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day and doing the same lifts over and over and over again” [2].

Successful individuals do not have a superheroic dose of motivation. They have a willingness to be bored in the tedious tasks toward greatness.

In Conclusion….

Even as a licensed counselor, I am no more a professional at measuring personal growth than any one of you. Why? Because you are the expert of your own story, and of your own life. I do not have any of those magic formulas for success or fairytale shortcuts to reaching all of your goals.

Honestly, this was an interestingly difficult blog to write, because most of the information I could find about measuring personal goals was based on vague theories and personal experiences of just another human trying to figure it all out.

I guess at the end of the day I really am still that 7th grader trying to grow mold in my Mom’s bathroom. Except now, I have a growing repertoire of experiences to learn from— experiences of my own, and experiences dictated to me by my clients, friends and mentors.

These experiences have taught me that, ultimately, growth (and how we measure it) is a process, and quite often it is not a “point A to B” kind of process, either. It’s a twisty, turny journey with countless shifting variables. Each of us has the unique opportunity to respond to these variables and turn the tide for ourselves, one small decision at a time. How I measure these decisions and these tides is up to me. How you measure yours is up to you. The good news is, I am out here in the waves right with you—not just as a counselor, but as another human moving paperclips into a jar.

I’ll close by asking you a question from a poem by Mary Oliver, a question that sat on my desktop background for upwards of 2 years as I worked diligently to complete my counseling licensure—one

hour at a time. This question stared me in the face every morning as I prepared to meet the day of clients.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”



1. Clear, J. (2020, February 4). How to stick with good habits every day by using the “Paper Clip Strategy”. James Clear. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from

2. Clear, J. (2020, June 30). How to fall in love with the process to stay focused & motivated. Buffer Resources. Retrieved March 12, 2022, from

3. Itani, O. (2021, August 15). The Power of Progress: Measure the gain, not the gap. Omar Itani. Retrieved March 12, 2022, from

4. Merk, H. (2019, September 22). How to quantify “personal growth”. Medium. Retrieved March 12, 2022, from

5. Oliver, M. (1990). The Summer Day. In House of Light. essay, Beacon Press.

6. Sands, B. (2018, February 2). Metrics that matter: How to use data to guide personal growth + fuel performance. Sands Leadership. Retrieved March 12, 2022, from

7. Stuarte. (2021, September 5). How to measure personal growth, self-improvement without sabotaging your confidence. stuarte. Retrieved March 12, 2022, from