“N” is for Nature’s Nurture

Think about the last time you took a moment to marvel at a sunrise, watch a bird in flight, or deeply enjoy the sparkle of a starry night? Has it been a little bit too long? Winter in the northern hemisphere can make it difficult to get outside and revel in nature’s beauty. During the winter months, especially after the holiday hoopla settles down, we tend to spend more time hibernating indoors.

When we’re tucked away inside, there are ample opportunities to engage with technology; cell phones, podcasts, streaming shows, computers, video games, and the news. Whatever your news source is, I’m sure you are finding it rife with reports of the war in Ukraine, pandemic confusion, climate disasters, economic crashes, and political battles. I’m also sure that over-indulging in the news will lead to a state that is akin to the opposite of “wellness”! To that end our Wellness ABC’s letter “N” is not for “news” but rather for nature’s nurture.  

Let’s start with a few things that can bring us closer to nature while we are still tucked away inside.

  • Put away the technology at bedtime to combat insomnia and improve your sleep quality. Numerous articles abound on the effect the blue light of our cell phones have on the brain and circadian rhythms associated with healthy, natural sleep. Trying to take my own advice, I’m entering an experimental phase to ditch my (apparently very bad) habit of bedtime reading on my cell phone.
  • Gardening during the warmer months has so many health benefits such as reducing stress, improving mood, connecting us to nature, and exercising the body. During the winter months, try a window box garden. The plants provide beauty, color, blossoms, oxygen, a sense or agency, and perhaps even culinary delights.
  • Do you have a companion animal? If you do, spending quality time playing, grooming, training, feeding, or just hanging out with that animal will help bring your body into homeostasis. Heart and respiration rates, blood pressure, and body temperature come into balance when interacting with your friend. Companion animals also help to reduce anxiety and depression. If you do not have (or cannot have) a furry friend in your home, consider volunteering at your local shelter. Providing care, comfort, walking, or feeding the animals will be good for both of you. {Warning: this can be a dangerous practice as it is possible to get adoption fever!}
  • Get into aromatherapy! The nose contains 10 million neurons that catch odor molecules. These are called “olfactory receptors” and they send odors to the emotional center of the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system is connected to other vital parts of the brain that manage functions such as: heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, temperature, memory, and reaction to stress. Choose pure essential oils (found in most health food stores), not synthetic perfumes. Inhale the oils: put a few drops onto palms, rub together and inhale; put the drops on a cotton ball; use a room diffuser, aromatherapy potpourri pot, or light ring. Make a small spray bottle with water and a few drops of the desired oils. Shake well and spray the room. Three aromatherapy all-stars I have on hand are:
    • Lavender – uplifting and calming, inflammation and pain relieving, heals burns as if by magic; takes the sting out of insect bites
    • Lemon – tonifying, antiseptic, anti-bacterial, insect repellant, soothes sore throats
    • Peppermint – cooling, uplifting, promotes alertness, treats nausea, combats a chilly, depressed feeling. Lavender and peppermint compresses for headache and/or tired feet
  • Connect to nature through mindful food preparation. The body needs sustenance to survive and thrive. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is paramount to wellness. Try some new ingredients, recipes, or spices. Take time to prepare your meals and eat them mindfully. Preparing food in this way contributes to a state of well-being and your body will thank you. Add some spring to your step by including asparagus, fresh clover sprouts, or spring radishes to your diet, or explore eating the rainbow! Consult with a nutritionist, naturopath, or dietician to learn about the very best diet and/or herbals for your health.

When caregiving for a patient or loved one with limited mobility, you will want to use nature’s gifts to uplift the environment. Cornell University provides an excellent in depth resource guide for creating a healing, comfortable, home space for end-of-life care. Here are some brief tips to help you get started:

  • Everyone wants a fresh smelling environment, but chemical cleaning agents and air fresheners including sprays, gels, scented candles, and plug-ins may pose uncomfortable symptoms for the general population, and cause irreparable harm to seriously ill patients and seniors. Unfortunately, many deodorizing products contain known carcinogens such as xylene, benzene, and formaldehyde (all neurotoxins). Continued exposure can cause headaches, neural, and respiratory problems. The home or room that is overly saturated with these products can cause allergic reactions, digestive upset, dizziness, depression, or other neural problems such as memory loss.
  • You can breathe easier while keeping the patient’s room clean with natural products that can be made at home with baking soda, vinegar, and essential oils; or products like those made by Seventh Generation, Ecos, or Dr. Bonner. Soft, natural fiber pajamas, linens, and blankets will be a comfort to the patient. Keep all linens and pillows clean and refreshed using natural cleaning products.
  • Speaking of breathing, HEPA (highly efficient particulate air) filters are available in various sizes and work to remove dust, pet dander, and other allergens from the air. Be sure to check your HVAC filter and replace it if its full of dust and other particles. Check in often with the patient to create an ambient temperature and comfortable, breathable, air. Be conscious of opening and closing doors and windows, using AC or heat that suits their changing needs.
  • Use fresh flowers, plants, crystals, stones, or a small water fountain to bring nature’s nurture into the patient’s room. If possible, situate the bed or easy chair with a view of the outside. If that is not possible, consider hanging artwork of visually pleasing outdoor scenes, animals, flowers, or other images that the patient will enjoy. The patient might also enjoy natural “white noise” such as the sounds of a river or babbling brook, ocean, forest birds, or rain. These can be found on most streaming devices. Check in with the patient often about preferences for sounds, music, or silence.
  • Sharing food and drink with loved ones is a way to share love in every culture. Remember that hospice patients may continue to be hungry and thirsty for the foods they have always enjoyed but it is typical for hunger and thirst to wane when moving toward final life stages. Hospice nurses teach us that there will be a point when nurturing does not include the “chicken soup”. Nature’s best thirst quencher is water. Be sure there is clean, filtered water for the patient to drink and/or ice chips to soothe a dry mouth. Ask your hospice nurse or nursing assistant to teach you how to use disposable mouth swabs to deliver small amounts of water for oral care and comfort.

In closing, here’s a reminder that the spring equinox is right around the corner. You will likely soon be stepping outside into nature more often. Consider leaving the cell phone behind, or at least placing it on airplane mode so you can receive the full benefit of nature’s gifts. Take your journal along, sit for a while, jot down some thoughts about this season’s invitation to begin anew. As you venture out take your time, breathe easy, stop, look, and listen for nature’s nurture all around you.

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