The restorative aspects of nature has long been verified in both folk lore and science. The further you drive away from the city, the fresher the air may feel. Enjoying long walks, hikes, trails, or climbs in nature affords you the opportunity to learn from the environment. Retreating to the countryside, conservation areas, local parks or beaches gives your body, mind, and spirit the chance to reconnect with nature in the wild and to reflect on your own corporeal nature.
There is no doubt that modern modes of work have increased demands on cerebral functioning. Business and service industries have migrated to online platforms. Even those jobs that require direct or in-person contact have increased digitization and techo-merging with computer systems and processes aimed to streamline administrative and staffing functions such as scheduling, attendance, payroll, and more. The amount of time required to merge traditional labour, as you know it to virtual webspaces has been enormous. It remains to be seen what the toll of this work will be on the human brain and body.
More and more clients disclose symptoms consistent with adrenal and cognitive fatigue that typically result from extended periods of extreme stress. There appear to be a set of shared mental and physical impacts created by working too much, too hard, and for too long. Clients who avoid symptoms of overwork are at greater risk of burnout. Learning to identify when to take a break is a critical first step in sustaining your wellness over the long term. Once you begin to become aware of your need to take a break, the next challenge will find ways to integrate these into your work and play days.
Your body is usually the best measure of your health and wellness. Your corporeal self is essentially made up of the same materials found in all other life forms on the planet. When you find time to rest and recharge in nature, you benefit from the subtle nuances of natural rhythms you encounter when walking through a field, forest, or mountain top. You are exposed to reproductive, life and death cycles, and seasonal changes in all the plant and animal life that surrounds you. Being close witnesses to these miracles of nature will likely lead you to a deeper reflective view of yourself in nature as well.
In my clinical practice, understanding the self is a lifelong process of deep introspection and reflection. It is an integrative journey of self-knowledge that includes your body, mind, and spirit. A lack of balance in your life generally leads to problems in one of these three areas of the physical, mental, or spiritual self. Journeys of recovery and healing require you to regain balance in one or all areas. Years of self-neglect may require months or years of recovery. Getting to know yourself is a cool journey. Getting to a state of inner harmony where you appreciate that your life is as miraculous as those miracles of nature you see regularly on a casual walk each day is well worth the time you invest in yourself.
There are several natural cycles that you experience each day as well. These bio-rhythms include sleep, digestion, menstrual cycles, and hormonal changes. Some bio-rhythms change hourly, others daily, and even others progressively change over several years as you age. As a younger woman, I had regular menstrual periods that were consistent and not terribly painful. As a married woman, my sexual activity was connected to a loving partner who agreed to a family planning method that did not rely on the pill. I noticed many things about my monthly cycle that did in fact change when stressed, overworked, or with changes in the number of daylight hours. I had a relatively longer cycle that was usually 32 days in length, while many peers had shorter cycles. When work had been particularly stressful, I noticed a delay in my period by up to two weeks. Many women shared similar experiences and reflected on the impact of stress on this regular monthly hormone driven bio-rhythm.
Peri-menopause and menopause itself is another very intense period of several years where natural bio-cycles progressively change and on many levels. My professional and personal approach to care has always been bio-psycho-social. Understanding the self must include a corporeal perspective that allows you to be aware of the changes in your body when distressed. You may learn that you lose your appetite for food, sleep, or sex under great stress, or alternatively that your desires for food, sleep, substances, or sex grow as a means to release a build-up of toxic energy or the primary stress hormone cortisol. Some people make reckless decisions when distressed and regret that they failed to learn healthier coping strategies sooner. Practices such as yoga, Taiichi, mindful meditation, or contemplative prayer offer opportunities for you to slow down and “feel” your body‘s cardio and breathing rates. Newer technologies such as the Apple Watch, or Fitbit also provide you with immediate bio-feedback that can help you to identify signs of overwork as well as periods of rest.
Achieving states of inner harmony at different developmental stages in your life is possible when you care for yourself as a miraculous creation of nature. Self-love flows when you accept the fragility of your human body, and nurture yourself for health and wellness over the long term.
Lisa Romano-Dwyer BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW