The Common Sense of Prescribing Nature

In the mad rush of our days, I try to slow things down by watching the PBS News Hour. It is a much more calm, paced interviewing style, lacking the ticker tape of distractions at the bottom of the screen, and most dramatic banter. There are often personal interviews where journalists take the time to truly have a conversation (what?!) and investigate what’s going on. Even the transcripts are enjoyable to read. But in my recent blogging efforts, I was more than delighted to come across this gem – the common sense of prescribing nature.

The Common Sense of Prescribing Nature to Veterans and Urban Children

Tonight’s episode featured a bit on physicians and nurse practitioners prescribing nature to communities, notably veterans and urban children. Outside of personal expectations from patients, the clinics organize guided bus trips to parks. Some of these trips are local, and some venture so far as state and national parks. These wellness prescriptions even receive insurance reimbursement.

An Air Force vet shares her experience.

As I watched this extraordinary (but common sense) idea play out, the most touching interview involved an Air Force vet. She shared her story of crippling anxiety from her time in service. But with a little bit of nature and dose of mind-blowing common sense, her world was dramatically changed.

From the transcript: Air Force vet Vercinia Vinzant saw the world as a threat before this program. After 22 years of service and some heavy trauma, she could barely leave her home.

I don’t know if people realize how important it is for people like me to be able to learn how to live in the world again, because trees are forgiving. The grass doesn’t judge you. The grass doesn’t care how squirrelly you seem to be that day. It doesn’t care. When I first started this, I’m like, oh, come on, seriously? Going outside is going to help what, really? But, amazingly so, it does help.” – Vercincia Vinzant as interviewed by Cat Wise for the PBS News Hour.

Reflecting on her words, Ms. Vinzant’s experience is one that could be shared by so many other veterans in need of critical psychological and emotional care.

Children need time in nature to decrease cortisol levels.

So much points to the fact that children need to be outdoors. Not just outdoors playing sports, but out in nature. The interview states that there is scientific data supporting that time outdoors decreases cortisol levels.

Studies have shown that exposure to nature can lower rates of everything from anxiety and depression to more surprising things like preterm labor, asthma and nearsightedness.

But why nature is beneficial is not entirely clear. Some suspect that natural stimuli, the swaying trees, rushing water and singing birds, might reset our fight or flight response, which is too often switched into overdrive by the stresses of urban modern life.

That rest, in turn, gives the body’s psychological, digestive and immune systems the break they need to function normally.” – Cat Wise for PBS News Hour.

The ‘nearsightedness’ bit is a surprise, is it not? Or perhaps in our sedentary world of screens and vehicles, maybe just common sense.

***In a fall 2020 update to this article, my youngest daughter was diagnosed with convergence insufficiency after prolonged remote schooling on electronic devices. We were given various exercises to improve her eye muscle coordination, but all she really needed was time focusing on the natural world. The more time she spent away from her devices and observing objects both near and far freely, out of doors, the more her ocular control returned to normal.

Click here to read about stepping out of the vice of our anxieties through a kind of walking meditation.

Banner photo by Pixabay (https://www.pexels.com/@pixabay).

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