Spending time in nature is an important aspect of self-care for healthcare workers. Nature enhances mental and physical well–being. It boosts creativity and brain function. Exposure to nature is especially helpful for healthcare workers due to the intensity of our jobs, physical demands, and the technical environments in which we work.
Nature Reduces Stress
Healthcare workers experience extremely high levels of stress, and chronic stress is deadly. Studies indicate that spending time in nature lowers stress levels. Depressive symptoms lessen too. Blood pressure drops. Muscle tension diminishes. Headaches and other aches and pains decrease.
Research Proves that Natural Environments Enhance Cognitive Function
Experts at Texas A&M University validated that plant rich environments enhance brain function. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that memory and attention span increased by 20% when test subjects spent time in natural settings. If you work in a clinical setting that offers limited opportunities to view nature, consider adding scenes of natural environments or plants if appropriate. Experts found that viewing scenes of nature and being exposed to plants sharpens the senses and soothes the soul.
Nature Grows Compassion
Long hours, working with patients and families in crisis, and the ever-changing care environment contribute to burnout and compassion fatigue. Several studies prove that spending time in nature increases empathy, cohesiveness, and compassion. Energy levels increase. Environmental science experts determined that even spending five minutes in a natural environment enhances mood and self-esteem (Professional Practice: Adult Well Being, 2017).
Spending Time in Nature Reduces Illness, Improves Well-being, and Reduces Absenteeism
Wise administrators know that health care workers who spend time outdoors are more likely to get exercise and exposure to mood-boosting sunlight. Exposure to nature results in increased energy and an elevated sense of wellness. Individuals who spend time outdoors need less frequent medical treatments, as they are less susceptible to minor illnesses and perceive themselves as healthy. Spending time outdoors ultimately translates to a reduction in healthcare costs and less absenteeism among workers. Spending time outdoors revitalizes care providers and improves on-the-job performance (Texas A and M University, n.d.).
Healthcare Leaders Recognize the Value of Natural Healing Environments
Planners of leading medical centers and other healthcare facilities understand the healing value of nature. Visionary healthcare organizations reap the healing value of nature by providing large windows, gardens, and beautiful artwork on their premises. Studies show that including water, such as an outdoor fountain in a garden, boosts nature’s healing effects (Barton & Pretty, 2010) (Professional Practice: Adult Well Being, 2017). Workers report an improved level of job satisfaction when they have access to nature.
How Health Care Workers Can Reap Nature’s Wellness Benefits
Here are some ideas for incorporating nature into your self-care routine.
- Get outside every day.
- Ride a bike or walk to work.
- Eat your lunch outdoors. If your facility has a garden or even attractive foundation plantings, take your break there.
- Perform daily exercise outdoors rather than at home or in a gym.
- Position your work station near a window if possible.
- Educate yourself about the healing benefits of nature. Share your knowledge with co- workers, patients, and administrators.
- Form a committee to investigate ways to make your work environment nature rich.
- Become an activist. Work for the preservation and expansion of natural ecosystems and healthy communities.
- Plan outdoor activities for your days off.
Ancient Wisdom Validated by Modern Research
Physicians and healers have recommended nature cures since the dawn of human civilization. It is only since the middle twentieth century that the healing environment took a back seat to technology and other healing modalities. Current research validates the wisdom of the ages.
Experts are not sure how nature heals. Some researchers propose that humans are soothed by patterns in plants and natural structures. Others believe that we genetically “feel safer” in natural ecosystems. Nature likely heals via several mechanisms. What I know for sure is that going outdoors provides us physical and mental breaks from our hectic, complex work environments.
Model Healthy Behaviors for Self-Care
Spending time in nature will improve your health. As health care providers, we serve as models for all people who desire improved health. Get outside. Experience less stress and greater satisfaction with life. It takes minimal effort to reap the benefits of nature. Unlike many healing modalities, spending time in nature costs nothing but time. Spread your knowledge freely. Use this wondrous resource for self-care and to benefit your patients.
Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Excercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis. Environmental Science and Technology, 44 (10),3947-3955. doi:10.1021/es903183r
Professional Practice: Adult Well Being. (2017). Retrieved from American Society of Landscape Architects: https://www.asla.org/ContentDetail.aspx?id=39515
Texas A and M University. (n.d.). Health and well-being benefits of plants. Retrieved September 12, 2017, from Ellison Chair in International Floriculture: http://ellisonchair.tamu.edu/health-and-well-being-benefits-of-plants/#.Wbfn2LpFyUk