THE Forest Management Bureau (FMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) came up with a unique Valentine's Day activity – tree hugging!

According to the FMB’s Facebook page, the "Tree Hugging Day" campaign aims to promote the social and health benefits that can be derived from nurturing trees/forests, and raise awareness on the importance of the tree-hugging movement.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu said that this activity was meant to make the Filipino public aware of the trees’ importance and nurturing forests “as a measure to address climate change.”

Anyone can participate in this tree-hugging campaign by posting on Facebook or Instagram a selfie or groupie while hugging a tree. Those interested can visit the FMB’s Facebook page (facebook.com/denrfmbofficial) for the mechanics. The submission of entries, however, ends February 18. I posted my picture hugging an old balacat tree at Mabalacat Elementary School.

Why hug a tree? According to some articles I read in the internet, hugging a tree increases levels of hormone oxytocin. This hormone is responsible for feeling calm and emotional bonding. When hugging a tree, the hormones serotonin and dopamine make you feel happier.

Some research also claimed that by just walking in a forest has relaxing effects. It was found to lower blood pressure and heart rates, induce a positive mood, and reduce anxiety levels. Walking in the forest is called “forest bathing.” The term emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise called shinrin-yoku.

Stone Kraushaar, PhD, a clinical psychologist known as "The Hug Doctor" and author of the book “A 21-Day Journey to Embracing Yourself, Your Life, and Everyone Around You” said that “a good embrace—a hug—squeezes every ounce of fear, worry, and negativity out of your spirit, leaving you with nothing but warmth, inner peace, and a feeling of connection.” Dr. Stone recommends that we stay in a hug for a minimum of 21 seconds every day.

Tree hugging was also used as a form of protest. In India, there was the Chipko movement, also called Chipko andolan, a nonviolent social and ecological movement by rural villagers, particularly women, in the 1970s, aimed at protecting trees and forests slated for government-backed logging. The Hindi word chipko means “to hug” or “to cling to.”

Inspired by the Chipko movement, people in Japan in 2009 protested the building of a tunnel near Mount Takao, hugging trees that would have been displaced by the 40-foot-wide hole. In 2017, in West Bengal in India, students protested the logging of about 4,000 trees by forming a human chain around them.

Feeling stressed? Hug a tree!