ICELAND RECOMMENDS HUGGING TREES RATHER THAN PEOPLE
We've never needed an excuse to spend time amongst the wonder of trees but in a time when social distancing is keeping loved ones out of arms reach and embracing each other is discouraged for risk of COVID-19 infection, the Icelandic Forestry Service is encouraging people to hug a tree trunk instead. Rangers in the Hallormsstaour National Forest in East Iceland have been clearing paths of snow and marking out intervals of two metres, so that local people can enjoy walking deep into the woods to choose a tree, without coming in too close contact with each other.
In his bestselling book, The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben argues that trees have just as much character as humans do and to save the world's forests we must first recognize that trees are "wonderful beings" with innate adaptability, intelligence, and the capacity to communicate with and heal other trees. And it's also long been known that hugging a tree (just like hugging a human) increases levels of oxytocin which reduces stress and increases happiness. Even seeing trees makes us feel calmer, leading to a lower heart rate and blood pressure. However, tree-hugging being 'prescribed' for social isolation is a new one.
"Trees can offer a sense of comfort," says Forest Ranger Por Porfinnsson "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. It's such a wonderful feeling of relaxation and then you're ready for a new day and new challenges."
For maximum benefit, he also recommends spending at least five minutes a day in this embrace, and closing your eyes.