A recent paper in Science Advances reveals  the value of nature experience for mental health. Nurses are no strangers to long shifts and hectic work environments where the stakes can often be life or death. High stress levels can drain nurses’ energy, impede attention and critical thinking, and ultimately lead to declining patient care and outcomes. But here’s the good news: by spending more time in nature, nurses can rejuvenate their energy levels, improve their mood and concentration, and commit themselves to delivering high standards of patient care. Even something as simple as indoor plants has been proven to have a positive impact on mood and energy levels.

Stress and Burnout on the Rise

Mental health issues among nurses are increasingly common. In one recent survey, nurses ranked their current mental health and well-being at an average of 5.8 out of ten (one being poor and ten being excellent). In the survey, nurses also said the pandemic was responsible for exacerbating issues like stress, fatigue, insomnia, burnout, and compassion fatigue. Additionally, a lack of exposure to nature may also be contributing to increasing levels of stress and depression in nurses. Nurses usually spend the entirety of their shift — anywhere between eight to sixteen hours — indoors, not even catching a glimpse of the outside. Notably, inadequate exposure to nature has been found to increase levels of stress and depression and decrease social engagement in women (women account for around 88% of all nurses globally).

Healing Power of Nature for Nurses

In addition to decreasing mental health and well-being, stress also inhibits energy levels and work efficiency, which ultimately negatively affects patient care. Fortunately, here’s where nature can help nurses. How? Simply put, nature makes people happy. According to the American Psychological Association, spending time in nature has been proven to lower stress, boost mood, enhance attention, and reduce the risk of psychiatric disorders. It can even increase cooperation and empathy — which can help nurses better understand patient needs and put patients at ease. Since exposure to nature can provide nurses with a vital sense of peace and inner calm, they’ll be better able to deal with the inevitable challenges encountered during their shifts. Nature can, therefore, help nurses strengthen their resilience — which can be defined as the ability to overcome stressful or unexpected situations, adapt positively, maintain a sense of control, and deliver excellent standards of patient care. As a result, mental health and well-being are naturally maintained more easily. In fact, in a recent study published in BMC Nursing, resilience in nurses was found to reduce nurse burnout significantly.

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Moreover, a six-week study into nurse burnout compared the psychological state of nurses working at a level-one trauma center in Portland, Oregon. One group of nurses took their breaks in hospital gardens, while another group of nurses took their breaks indoors. The results were clear: the nurses who took their breaks in a nature-based setting experienced a significant improvement in emotional exhaustion and were, therefore, at a lower risk of burnout. And when nurses are happy, energized, and emotionally stable, standards of patient care go up as a result.

Simple Ways Nurses Can Connect with Nature

Connecting with nature during a shift is easier than you may think. Indoor plants, for example, can effectively lower levels of stress and anxiety in nurses. Being in the presence of plants for just five to ten minutes has been found to increase feelings of peace, happiness, and satisfaction. Indoor plants also add color, beauty, and visual interest, therefore making any healthcare facility a nicer, more uplifting environment to work in. When possible, nurses can also spend their breaks or lunch hours outdoors. Being outside for just twenty minutes daily boosts vitality levels, allowing nurses to rejuvenate and recharge before returning to their shift with a clear head.

Moreover, some hospitals have even installed living walls in their foyers. Living walls — vertical gardens — are essentially walls covered in greenery growing in soil or a similar substrate. Past research has shown green walls aid relaxation and improve mental health in people who live indoors, making them another effective way to expose nurses to nature while also adding a beautiful architectural element to the healthcare facility.

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Nature has the power to improve the mental health and well-being of nurses. By boosting mood and decreasing levels of depression and anxiety, regular exposure to nature can help nurses manage the stressors of their busy schedules so they can be the very best they can be and continue to uphold high standards of patient care.

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