Self-Care for Healthcare Workers Starts with Nature

By Kurt Johnson Photography • April 20, 2024

Nurses and healthcare workers at work in a hospital with healing spring flower and trees colorful uplifting wallcovering.

Nature heals, no matter who you are or what you do for a living.  Numerous studies report viewing nature images, when you can’t be outside, have many of the same benefits as being outdoors.  Reduced anxiety, lower blood pressure, improved focus, enhanced creativity, and increased energy levels are all benefits of immersing yourself in nature. 

Nature’s been shown to reduce stress in patients, so why wouldn’t it be the same for healthcare staff?

As our knowledge grows about the importance of the human-nature connection, it’s not hard to conclude that self-care for healthcare workers starts with nature.

Most of the research on biophilic design doesn’t make the distinction between patients and staff, or the information focuses only on patients.

According to a recent article, Stressors Among Healthcare Workers: A Summative Content Analysis,  “Healthcare workers are experiencing high stress and burnout, at rates up to 70%, hindering patient care” (Rink et al., 2023).  This is something that affects everyone inside the healthcare system.

As a result of the pandemic, the stress and emotional strain healthcare workers deal with have gotten more coverage, and hospital CEOs and administrators are paying attention.

They’re looking more closely at the benefits of using nature imagery in healthcare design to alleviate stress for patients and staff.  They’re discovering that self-care for healthcare workers starts with nature, and photographs are an easy way to bring nature indoors where it can have a big impact.

Nature exists for everyone and is deeply ingrained in our DNA.  A forest doesn’t know if a person walking through it is recovering from an injury or illness, is a new mom feeling exhausted by responsibilities, or is a nurse feeling burned out from caring for sick patients.  Nature just exists.  And pursuing our biological connection to nature is the ultimate form of self-care.

In a recent blog, Healthcare and Senior Living Design Knowledge Expert, Sara Marberry, discussed how the conversation surrounding patient satisfaction has expanded to include staff over the past several years, “… because patients are always going to come to the hospital when they need care, but workers may not keep working at a hospital if they aren’t happy.”

According to Marberry, the emphasis on self-care for healthcare workers includes, “. . . incorporating elements of nature to improve mood, reduce stress, and enhance overall well-being.”

Healthcare workers are more stressed than ever but, when they’re given access to nature, rejuvenation occurs, allowing them to work from a more relaxed and focused mind space.

Healing begins with self-care, and self-care for healthcare workers starts with nature. 

A study in the National Library of Medicine, Relationships Between Exterior Views and Nurse Stress: An Exploratory Examination, revealed that when nurses working 12-hour shifts had access to views of nature, in a significant number of cases (almost 60%) they were able to maintain their alertness level throughout long shifts (Pati et al., 2008).  Some even experienced improved alertness when they had views of nature surrounding them.

In contrast, of the nurses whose alertness levels deteriorated, 67% had no view of nature (Pati et al., 2008).

When looking at healthcare workers, “the primary factors influencing mental health disorders are occupational burnout and the compatibility of the work environment.”  That’s from an April 2024 research article, “Mental health disparities between physicians and nurses” (Lu, et al., 2024).

Views of nature can reduce stress and improve workplace satisfaction.  This makes the inclusion of nature imagery in healthcare environments essential – whether it’s new construction or remodeling.

Another reason self-care for healthcare workers has to start with nature.

Finally, in an article written by Wendy Uhing and Lela Tannenbaum, both healthcare workers, they describe the difficult working conditions:

“Plagued by long and irregular work shifts, short staffing and inadequate equipment and supplies, increased documentation and administrative demands resulting in less time to provide direct care to patients, continuous exposure to disease and human suffering, and poor work-life balance, we face a myriad of stressors on a daily basis. Stressors that directly affect our mental, physical, and spiritual health, can spill over into our personal lives, and put us at risk for professional burnout. These issues have been further exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. Earlier this year, the Surgeon General declared addressing burnout among healthcare workers to be a national priority. In the midst of this crisis, it is increasingly imperative that we invest more in our own self-care.

(Getting Back to Nature: Healing the Mind, Body, and Spirit of Healthcare Workers 2022)

This is a powerful testament to the need for communities to come together to support healthcare workers.  They’re on the front lines of illness and suffering, and they shouldn’t be forced to sacrifice their own wellness so they can care for others. Especially when research indicates there is an easily attainable solution: nature.

“There is a growing body of research that supports how spending time interacting with, and connecting to, nature can elicit profound healing and may be just the prescription we need.” (Uhing, Tannenbaum, 2022).

Uhing and Tannenbaum go on to say:

“Connecting with nature can be a cost-effective self-care strategy that can occur in small “doses”. It need not take a lot of money or time and can be as simple as having lunch outside, planting a garden, walking in the park, or simply contemplating a pretty view. The possibilities are endless.”

We couldn’t agree more.  At KJP, our specialty is helping you and your entire care team contemplate a pretty view – because we know what a positive impact nature views can have.

Nature-based imagery is more than just art.  It’s a window to the natural world and a way for all of us to feel more hopeful, energized, and connected to the world around us, leading to better outcomes and more healing for everyone.   Let’s make self-care for healthcare workers a priority by encouraging all wellness environments to use the healing power of nature.

Categories: Healing, Healthcare, Research

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