Nurses Need Nature Medicine

In our quest for adequate self-care and better health, how often do we overlook a free source of wellness—nature? A dose of the outdoors sounds simplistic. Except that health providers are more frequently prescribing nature for patients, citing the positive health improvements possible through gardening, outdoor exercise, and time spent in parks.

In Canada, the PaRX initiative of British Columbia’s parks sends patients outdoors, having discovered that written “nature prescriptions” are more effective than a verbal suggestion.

Nature as medicine is not new: our nursing founder, Florence Nightingale, purported that “nature alone cures.”

It is often thought that medicine is the curative process. It is no such thing: medicine is the surgery of functions, as surgery proper is that of limbs and organs. Neither can do anything but remove obstructions; neither can cure; nature alone cures. (Nightingale 1859/1992, p. 74)

Nature-based therapy interventions are tools to improve well-being and to reduce perceived stress, says University of Minnesota nursing professor Erica Timko Olson, PhD, RN. Her research focus on nursing students’ resilience, spirituality, and anxiety is currently invested in a pilot study about creating accessible “forest bathing” experiences—mindful time in a forest with attention to the five senses. “The greater picture is 120 minutes outside is the new 10,000 steps,” she believes.

Nature therapy is evidence based, with benefits to mental health as well as memory capacity, directed attention, and reduced negative emotions. In How Nature Nurtures: Amygdala Activity Decreases as the Result of a One-hour Walk in Nature, Sudimac and colleagues (2022) demonstrated that a one-hour walk in a natural environment lowered stress as amygdala activation decreased. Walking for the same amount of time in an urban setting did not decrease amygdala activity.

As nursing professionals who typically work long hours in indoor environments with noisy machines, undercurrents of tension and stress due to illness, constant demands for our attention, and no windows to even glance outside occasionally, nature is a therapeutic option we should seize.

God knew nature was good for us from the start. He created a luscious green space for rambling, reflecting, and resting before he made the first of our kind. Our senses long for the natural world. Our immune systems would benefit from the calm, organic surroundings. Our vital signs could normalize and our spirits re-set to a different rhythm.

While an hour-long stroll in the woods or on a beach isn’t realistic for many of us most of the time, accessing nature is still do-able. Read the practical ideas offered by Erin Dickman, MS, RN, OCN, in her Oncology Nursing Society blog post, Time in N­ature is Time Well Spent.

Be intentional this week. Make Psalm 19:1 a personal experience: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Get outside and meditate on Job 27:-10: “Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”

Karen Schmidt, BA, RN, is a contributing editor with the Journal of Christian Nursing and constantly grateful for the surroundings of her home on an island in the Pacific Northwest.

Glean more spiritual self-care resources on the NCF website.


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