Part 2: The Prescription
Last Friday's Blog focused on the true story of a patient who visited their PCP at a well-known medical institution and the result was a diagnosis of "Burnout Related to Life." This patient was prescribed daily walks in nature and screen time limitations.
Why would a doctor prescribe daily walks in nature and limiting screen time? How is this a valid and effective step to heal what may have been any or a combination of fatigue, despondency, sleep issues, pain, stress, anxiety, difficulty focusing, among other ailments? Why could they not just get on the exercise bike?;). The query is valid and worth discussing as we have a modern epidemic of stress in the US, and this human story is indeed the story for so many of us.
I also shared in the last blog how excited Aimee and I were about this diagnosis and the prescription. As you know, this is my work. I study and teach the benefits of getting out into nature AND bringing nature inside. This particular prescription really floated my boat, or as described last week, an entire emotional flotilla. The scientific studies and mainstream media coverage supporting nature connection have become incredibly vast. COVID isolation was a major vehicle for highlighting what ails us and what can help us feel better and adapt. Our major city newspaper here in Pittsburgh just carried a big article on the benefits of nature walks. Our students here at breatheIN2IT send us articles and writings on The Practices and one "Nature Benefits" course graduate forwarded one from the Wall Street Journal called "For Better Health During the Pandemic, Is Two Hours Outside the New 10,000 Steps?" Thank you for this! These are a small but eye opening sampling of hundreds of recent like-themed publications.
To be concise and straightforward, since the industrial revolution, our culture has become more and more isolated from our natural world. So much so that most of us now spend almost no time, relatively, outside, or with other species. COVID has made us even more isolated than we were before. We cannot go to offices, many kids are not in school, groups are not meeting in person, religious institutions are closed, to give just a few examples. We cannot even get close to people.
Amazingly, wondrously, many during COVID began to naturally compensate by going where they could venture in relative virus safety - outdoors. We can hug trees, touch dirt, swim the lake, climb the mountain, groom our animals, cultivate our gardens, breathe the forest air in big gulps, mask-less if in an unpopulated area. Visitors to State Parks and other natural spaces reached record levels in 2020. Likewise, animal rescue facilities were sold out and some breeders still have huge waiting lists. This itch that we had to scratch is our biophilia. Biophilia is our innate need to be with other species, including plant life. EO Wilson coined the term many years ago and many studies have used his work as a jumping off point. We acquired pets and sought out nature more than in a very long time.
As so many have embraced outdoor connection with nature AND indoor connection when needed, those
included have covered a wide swath of backgrounds and specialties including writers, doctors, and social media leaders who are driving the mainstream delivery of the wellness benefits to the masses. The image to the left is a link to a Canadian initiative that connects doctors and patients to nature solutions. "Nature prescriptions were named one of the top 8 global wellness trends in 2019. And it's no surprise—research shows that kids and adults who spend more time in nature are happier and healthier." PaRx is breaking ground as Canada's first national, evidence-based nature prescription program.
Nature based design is the 2021 architectural trend. Outdoor leaders, guides marketers and retailers are seeing increased sales of their offerings. At one point, kayaks and tents became hard to find. Absolutely, necessarily, wonderfully, this all goes hand in hand with ecological initiatives to change the trajectory of an ailing planet that has suffered greatly from human abuse. If the healing powers of nature are a necessary part of well-being balance, perhaps we become more motivated to heal what literally sustains us.
We are realizing what was missing and what is perhaps a piece in the puzzle of the modern-day stress epidemic. We need time with the natural world.
Proven by science, a walk-in nature can lower blood pressure, increase good brain chemicals that soothe us, improve creativity, improve focus; nature can rejuvenate and recalibrate our tech-fried minds and bodies. When we add a mindfulness component, these passive benefits can be multiplied. New studies begin every week from some corner of the world where technological isolation and blue screens are possibly wreaking some bit of havoc on nervous systems.
The idea of a nature's healing powers is not new. A 2015 article by James Hamblin in The Atlantic sums up just a bit of history. In the last 6 years since the article, the nature-exposure movement has exploded:
"The idea that nature exposure is important to human health goes way back, predating fears about iPad addiction by a few generations. In an 1862 issue of The Atlantic, Henry David Thoreau praised the vigor-inducing virtues of walking in nature: “Think of a man’s swinging dumbbells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far-off pastures unsought by him!” Also in this magazine, the next year, when tuberculosis was believed to account for one-third of all deaths in “the civilized world,” a physician wrote, “No doubt the lives of thousands would be saved by destroying their houses, and compelling them to sleep in the open air.” At his office in Washington, D.C., Robert Zarr, a pediatrician, writes prescriptions for parks. He pulls out a prescription pad and scribbles instructions—which park his obese or diabetic or anxious or depressed patient should visit, on which days, and for how long—just as though he were prescribing medication. Zarr says it’s important to give concrete advice instead of repeating the vague admonitions (Exercise more! Get outside!) that people are used to hearing. “If you came in to me with bacterial pneumonia,” he told me, “I wouldn’t say, ‘You just go to any pharmacy, pick up any antibiotic you’d like, take it for as many days as you’d like, with or without food, and I’ll see you in a month, buddy.’ ” He doesn’t necessarily tell patients what to do at the park, however—just to go. Zarr is part of a small but growing group of health-care professionals who are essentially medicalizing nature. He relies on a compendium of 382 local parks—the product of meticulous mapping and rating of green spaces, based on accessibility, safety, and amenities—that he helped create for DC Park Rx, a community-health initiative. The Washington program was one of the first in the United States; there are now at least 150 others. Park prescriptions are a low-risk, low-cost intervention that, in Zarr’s experience, people are quick to accept. And sure, people are more likely to move around in a park than they are when watching TV, but there may be more to it than that. Researchers in the United Kingdom found that when people did physical activities in natural settings instead of “synthetic environments,” they experienced less anger, fatigue, and sadness. A 2015 study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that walking in a park reduced blood flow to a part of the brain that the researchers claimed was typically associated with brooding. And in one of the most famous studies on the topic, patients recovering from gallbladder surgery healed faster and with fewer complications when their room looked out on trees rather than a wall."
And there is so much more! As we discuss in our "Amazing Benefits of Nature Course," most of us cannot or do not want to live off the grid in a drastic move to reconnect and heal. Richard’s Louv’s work on the idea of the "hybrid mind" means we don’t really have to. The balance of tech and nature is the key.
Yes, the prescription of limiting tech and more time with the natural world is, well, just awesome. At breatheIn2IT we would add to this a list of how you can connect, why, who, where and when; including a step-by-step guided description of how to best begin or to continue/enhance what might be very familiar to you.
In the end, it possibly took the isolating, stress-ridden havoc wreaked by a pandemic to give the final push to a needed epidemic of reconnecting with nature. Wish that we could have come to the realization in less of a extremely painful way rife with loss and hardship. Many, including me, would love to see nature connection education and experiences in schools, communities, and as a more ingrained prescription in the mainstream medical world. There are complexities. One study noted that the more going outside was pushed, the less some wanted to engage. My education in nature connection and green practices taught us to take into consideration the individual's personal preferences and accesses to nature. We discuss in our breatheIN2IT classes how to take time and figure out how we are most comfortable engaging with the natural world. Preference and comfort level are key to forming a lasting bond with the natural world, to the benefit of both parties. Nature will meet you wherever you are. "Ecotherapy" is a term that describes nature intervention for those with diagnosed levels of anxiety, possibly medicated. Nature has a place of support and healing here too and doctors and ecotherapists work to prescribe the addition of nature appropriately and accessibly to the already existing regime. And truly, many are just hanging out out the fringe of diagnosable stress and anxiety or depression. Many are just not enjoying life.
Finding ways to reap the benefits that getting back to the space where we spent 99.9% of our evolutionary time can bring us - physically, socially, psychologically and mentally - is perhaps a key to lifelong improvement in wellbeing.
Diagnosis: Burnout Related to Life:
Prescription: Down tech, up nature- balance
Interestingly, the prescription for many of us does not have to mean a huge and uncomfortable step. Meditation, mindfulness, gratitude, connection to self and others, positive psychology and adaptive coping techniques, as well as nature connection are ultimately very low-cost techniques and readily accessible with practice and guidance. For those who do not have access to The Practices and natural spaces, there are many initiatives to change that story - in cities, in schools, via programs and interventions.
The Practices, however, the prescription for healing, is often close to home OR inside of you, waiting to be intentionally greeted, learned, practiced, habituated, called into healing action.
Just now I lifted my head and looked out my home office window. The trees are decorated in snow and a bird landed high on my neighbor's maple. Now gone again. Perhaps off to find food before the coming winter storm, just like many humans in our area. I opened my window to breathe fresh cool air. Re-invigorated, I close my eyes and breathe. Calmly, I set back to my day. I am inside but gathering strength and calm from nature that is, in truth, one foot of wall away.
Like our blog, share our blog!:)
"Amazing Benefits of Nature Connection: A Modern Imperative"
Whether you are a seasoned outdoors person or wanting to learn ways to harness the benefits of
coming back to the place where we spent 99.9% of our evolutionary time, this Course will expand your thoughts on nature, enlighten you on the science backed benefits of re-connection and why they are a modern imperative for well-being and excite you about the "more than human world" even more or for the first time. Learn how to enhance and multiply the benefits.
Registration now open for this six session Course starting second week of March. Choose Sunday or Wednesday evening, 7PM ET.
"Spring PART Plus (Positivity, Relaxation and Resilience Training)"
Our 9 week signature, foundational breatheIN2IT Course is grounded in the science backed "Positivity and Relaxation Training (PART)" Curriculum from Benson Henry Institute/Mass General Hospital and Harvard Medical School research and professorial contribution. BreatheIN2IT additions, signature support e-mail/text communication throughout the course, and community, all serve to enhance the curriculum and a student's ability to bring the tools and techniques profoundly forward to reframe their lives.
Registration now open for this nine session Course starting in March. Choose Tuesday 10AM ET or Wednesday evening,7PM ET.