Episode 47: Seasonal Self Care Transcript


Nature Boost 

Episode 47:  Seasonal Self Care 


[Owl hoots] 

Hey there and welcome back to Nature Boost. I'm your host, Jill Pritchard, with the Missouri Department of Conservation. I have something to share with you. Maybe it's not a secret, because I work on one, but I love podcasts. I love listening to them all of the time. If I'm driving in my car, walking my dog, I'm at the gym, if I'm cooking in the kitchen, I'm usually listening to a podcast.

And if I'm not, then I'm listening to music. Or, I have my TV on. Through the years, I chose to tell myself this habit was okay, because I'm just one of those people who needs to have background noise. But the other day, I got to the park for my daily dog walk, and my headphones were dead. I'd forgotten to charge them. And I was totally prepared to have the worst dog walk ever, be absolutely bored out of my mind. But, I gotta tell you, it was truly wonderful not being distracted by Keith Morrison and Dateline in my ear - allowed me to feel the sun on my face and enjoy the warmth and listen to the leaves rustle in the wind, and giggle at my dog being funny on our walk, and just be.

Trust me, I get the irony and the hypocrisy. Here I am, hosting a nature podcast, encouraging everyone to spend time outside, and learn more about the outdoors. But, I have a terrible habit of not being present in the moment and not really practicing what I preach. And hopefully, I'm not alone here. So, I'm a millennial. We grew up in the age of the internet and AOL and AIM and then MySpace and then Facebook.We've practically been plugged in and connected for the majority of our lives.


And now our phones are more advanced than ever. We have phones on our wrists, we have smart watches now. And even glasses are computers. Have you seen those?  It's crazy! It's easy to get excited and wrapped up in the latest and greatest technology, especially as we're in the holiday season now, and we're all into the gift giving. That can be overwhelming and overstimulating, the holiday season in itself.

If you've been listening to Nature Boost for awhile, you may recall our first episode discussing nature's impact on mental and physical health. It's been awhile since we explored this idea, and with my recent headphone-less dog walk, and then just the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I thought it was a great topic to dig into again. Like, some seasonal self-care and how we can look to nature for some healing.

To understand what it is about nature that helps our health, I looked to a medical professional, primary care physician Dr. Jennifer Allen. Dr. Allen graduated from Oceania University of Medicine in 2012, and completed her residency at Mercy Hospital St. Louis in 2015 before becoming board certified in family medicine. She is now the founder of New Freedom Family Medicine located in Washington, Missouri.


[Birds chirp]

Dr. Allen, thanks so much for meeting with me this morning. I want to start this conversation to get your opinion on just how connected everybody is, in this day in age. You know, here I am, I've got my Apple Watch on my wrist, and it's tracking everything.And then we are constantly connected with our phones and computers. So, from a medical standpoint, what exactly does that do to our bodies, whenever we're constantly looking at a screen, and you know, and on our phones? 


Thank you, first, so much for having me. It really has amazing negative effects on our health.I mean, just for us to be able to sit here and do this, I had to take my phone and give it to my staff, or it would have interrupted us the whole time. It rings, or I get a text or whatever.

It makes it so that you can't rest.You can't relax. You're in a constant state of "turned on." Your brain doesn't get a chance to sort of linger and flow on different ideas with the constant interruptions. I think it increases our stress levels overall.There's just so many things we could talk about in that regard.

Just from a personal standpoint, I feel that I'm constantly stimulated. I find it that I - I don't really allow myself to just kind of be bored, in a sense.


Something is always going on. I feel like that's almost the norm in today's society now.

Absolutely. I agree with you 100%. I've noticed it just in my patients that I take care of, my children, and my own self.I've even told people I don't rest well.It's an adaptation, I think, that we have become accustomed to, where we always feel like we have to be on the go.We are over-scheduled in every aspect of our lives. To be able to just be in our own thoughts and to hear the silence, so to speak, it is really a calming  . . . adventure, for lack of a better description, because nobody knows how to do it anymore.

Finding that time where you can put your phone away, you can turn off the television, you can not look at your watch, not scroll the internet, not look at your email. Those times are something that we need to learn how to cultivate again.And I think it happened during the pandemic, where we weren't getting outside, we weren't socializing. People started to narrow their world, and now we all live in these individual little bubbles that don't connect with each other in a personal way. We're connected electronically.


Oh yes.

But we're not connected in a personal way. And yeah. I think that's really sad.

I think you're spot on. We are connected to each other in this almost impersonal sense, through electronics. But also, speaking of the pandemic, we saw a huge rise in the use of outdoor spaces.Because there was no other option for any type of recreation. How can we look to nature to unplug?  What exactly happens whenever we do disconnect in that sense? 

When we're not using our electronic devices, we start using different parts of our brain. And if you're really in tune to how you feel inside your skull, so to speak, I think people can feel that. I know I can feel that. I feel like the part that is constantly being stimulated, you can almost feel  . . . oh, a tension or a tightness in your head.But when you turn all that stuff off, and you go outside, and you just listen to the wind, close your eyes, listen to the squirrels playing in the leaves, feel the sunshine in your face, that sensation, that sort of tightness, can go away. And you feel  . . . I hope that doesn't sound hokey, but you feel increased blood-flow in different areas of your brain.

So the more creative centers of your brain, the places where you can have extended thoughts or imagination, those things light up. As opposed to the - you know, minutia, detail-oriented, hit-a-button, what do I have to do, what's on my calendar. Those kinds of things are different areas of the brain. You can feel your blood pressure go down.There're studies that show changes in the levels of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a chemical that your body makes when you have a healthy meal, and it lowers your blood pressure, because it makes your blood vessels more pliable, so they can relax and your blood pressure goes down.


It's just a really good, whole body sensation, that if you take the time to pay attention to, feels really good.

I'd love to talk about sleep. I am not ashamed to admit it, I know it's terrible, but I have been known to fall asleep with my TV on. You know, again, I think that goes to the background noise thing. But I know that blue light is terrible, terrible for your circadian rhythm, correct? 

Yeah, there are studies that show how it stimulates the different hormones, shifts the time when you sleep, and things like that. How many people fall asleep on the couch?  You're sleeping really soundly, then you wake up to go to bed, then you can't go back to sleep.


Right?When you go -- think about - I think most people could relate to this. Think about the toddlers. They play outside, they are at the playground or preschool or whatever. They're exhausted at the end of the day. All of that fresh air they get when the weather is nice, and they sleep so much better. Well, that's the same thing for teenagers and grownups as well. If you spend a lot of time outside, doing different things, not necessarily engaging your brain, but engaging your other muscles in your body and breathing deeply, all of those things distress, lower those chemicals that prevent sleep, and help improve the quality of your sleep.

So, I think being outside, going for a walk no matter the temperature. If you're dressed right, even a ten minute walk in Missouri is usually not, you know, unbearable.


This is something that can have a good effect, even if it's not necessarily ideal weather.

Oh, absolutely. I mean, if you have mittens and a scarf. I have a little reactive airway myself, so if I breathe cold air directly, sometimes it makes me cough. I just wrap a scarf around my face, breathe through the scarf, and they helps the air be a little more moist and a little warmer from my own body heat. That helps prevent, you know, any cough reaction that I might have.

Some people who have severe asthma, that may happen to them as well. But for most people, there's absolutely no reason why you can't be outside, even in very cold temperatures for a short period of time, with the proper gear, of course - a hat, gloves.

Is it true that you burn more calories in the cold, because your body is kind of like tensing up and shivering a little bit?  I heard that. What's your expert medical opinion? 


It is probably true, because you have to generate more heat, so therefore you would burn more calories. Probably not enough to make weight loss happen or anything like that.


A few calories more for sure.

Okay. This is kind of off topic, but we're talking about the cold and physical health. But, what's the hubbub about ice baths?  Is that good for you? 

There's some research out there that shows, again, increasing those chemical mediators that help get rid of free radicals, and things like that.I haven't read any of the studies recently, but that's what it's about. Those dramatic shifts in body temperature, and the chemical mediators that your body releases, to compensate for that, are supposed to be good for you.

Okay. Alright.I'll just go on a winter hike, and that will be a good -- 

What is it, the Polar Bear Club? 

The Polar Plunge, or whatever it is. Yeah, yeah.

I'm not sure I could do that, either.

Yeah. Same here.Let me ask you. Do you recommend to any of your patients to get outside, as part of their health? 


I do. It's really hard to get people to change their activities. So, we talk about exercise in general, but I think in our day in age, people think they're going to the gym. They forget that we have - like in Washington here, we have a riverfront trail. You can go walk on that. Lots of parks. Even being in your own backyard, I think it would be great just to go outside and look at how your yard changes in the winter. Like, really pay attention to what's going on. Are there birds?  Do you need to feed the birds in the winter, to bring them around? 

Notice how the grass changes. We have an app on our phone, where we can look at the leaves of a plant, and tell what a plant is.

Oh, yeah! 

I love that. But it also does bark. It's really fun to hover over the tree bark, and see if we can figure out what it is.It's just a really nice time. We have a little bit of land, so we like to go walking in the land. I like to feel the leaves and listen to the crunch of the leaves under my feet, and then listen for the little animals.

Something else that I love about nature is, it's for everyone.It's accessible. It's welcoming, no matter your background or walk of life, or where you are.

Yeah, absolutely. Missouri is so fortunate so have so many state parks, and hiking trails and thing like that that are free and many of the ones that I've been to are accessible.So there really shouldn't be any barriers. It's absolutely free health and wellness, right there at your feet. If more people got out and used those things, people would be healthier.

I think a big part of nature is the sunlight. Right? 

Oh, yes.

Sunlight is so good for us. Especially in the wintertime, would you say it's even more important to get sunlight in the wintertime? 

Oh, 100%, absolutely. I actually recommend -- I have a lot of patients who have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or worsening depression in the wintertime, and I think that's directly related to the amount of sunlight that we have. So, I recommend lightboxes. You can get a 10,000 lumen lightbox on Amazon, plug it in in your bathroom in the morning while you're getting ready, and just expose yourself to 30 minutes of extra sunlight, essentially.


A lightbox?  I haven't heard of that. What - 

It's a really good treatment. There's data that shows it is very effective. But, if you don't have a lightbox - just like a day like today, I was noticing before I came to work how bright and sunny it was. And it just felt really good, again, to notice. Just to have that experience of - Wow! It's a beautiful day!   You know?  That is so important. We live a little too far north of the equator to have the sunlight around here be enough for our vitamin D. I have patients that work outside in the sun everyday, and their vitamin D levels aren't adequate. Getting outside is fantastic for your health, but it may not be enough for your vitamin D levels.

So, I usually recommend checking that and supplementing vitamin D. But the sunlight is absolutely important for your mood, blood pressure, mood, frame of mind, and just your lung health, breathing the air. It's all so good for you.

I know a lot of people have busy lives, they have jobs, they have kids. They may not have a lot of extra time to spend a lot of time outside. Would you say five, ten minutes is good enough to be good for your health? 

I think five to ten minutes with a focus on the five to ten minutes being disconnected and outside - even if you have to park further away to walk into your building in the morning. In that time, don't think about your schedule. Don't think about the text that you just got. People can wait five minutes for your answer, or ten minutes for your answer. Look up.Look at the sky. Look at the trees in the parking lot.


I'm just imagining someone who works inside all day in a building. Use that five to ten minutes to be mindful and connected to nature and the universe instead of connected to the electronics. Then, yeah, I do think it makes a big difference. In addition to then don't take the elevator and walk up the steps, and things like that. So . . .

I feel like it can promote - the more time you spend outside, the more of a healthy lifestyle that can promote.

Yeah, the more you want it. Yeah. When you feel the affects and see how it makes you feel, then you want to do it more often.

And I love that you talked about we're so quick to grab that phone and to answer that text. And I did that the other day, and I thought - Why do I feel so compelled to answer this right now?  It's not an emergency. I know it's my sister telling me about this new show she is watching. You know, it's not like anything that is super important in the moment.

But, why do we have that quick response? 

My personal theory is that we become hardwired for that. So, the constant stimulation - and I think there's even data about this. Advertisements and television shows have changed, and like the gaming and things like that. There're all designed in very quick snippets. So, our attention span has changed into this quick snippet sort of reality, where everything happens really fast.

Instant gratification.

Instant gratification, exactly. Going back to your comment about being bored, we don't know how to be bored. We don't know how to just be at all. And so, I think it's just sort of a consequence of that whole phenomenon. My practice is a different kind of practice.I'm a direct primary care doctor.One of the things that my patients signup for is access, and that different kind of response. So, I know I am absolutely a victim, if you will, of this scenario that I've created. To me, good customer service is a rapid response.


And so, I answer as fast as I can.It's funny because some of my staff disagrees with me. They think if it's not an emergency, it can wait. It can wait up to an hour, potentially, which is probably fine.But, it's hard for me to retrain myself to do that. So, I'm actually working on that. I'm working on setting some boundaries, so that I don't feel the constant pull of the information people need from me.

Well, and I would assume that's a hard thing to turn off whenever you're not at the office, too! 

Oh, it's very hard!  I joke sometimes that I'm going to have a seizure because I don't have to my phone! It's too much. It's not sustainable and we have to put boundaries on the time that this requires. Because the negative effects of it are so much. I mean, it's fatiguing. What happens to me personally, and I think I notice it in my patients, is you just run out, you know. You become a drain and so the  . . .like my family, the people that need me most, at the end of the day, I don't have anything left to give.

Your cup is empty!  You're burnt out. I think burnout is a big word that has come around in the last few years.

Yeah, and I changed my practice specifically to avoid burnout that happens in traditional healthcare. My practice is very different. I don't bill insurance. My patients join as members. We develop a relationship and I'm able to spend more time with them. And I really like them. That is what people need. I think that helps me be a better doctor. But still, at the end of the day, attending to people's needs all the time, in an urgent manner, is draining.

And so the only way for anybody to sustain that, not even myself but my patients who are trying to keep up with the demands of their own jobs or their own families, you have to put those boundaries on so that you do have enough to give to the people -- I would argue that everyday, no matter what, the people's family is far more important than their job or their commercial connections, that they need to have.


Absolutely. You gotta put the mask on yourself before putting it on  . . . you know?  [Chuckling]

Right right. Yeah.Retraining people to understand - hey, let's focus on the things that really matter here. And that 32 second response time is not what really matters.

Yeah. Absolutely.Again, I just, I love the idea; self-care has been such a big thing and incorporating nature and fresh air. And I think also it allows you to appreciate the little things and be mindful, in a sense. It truly does give your mind a break.

While you were talking, I was kind of imagining some scenarios.Like, if it snows, lay down in the snow.Just for a minute. Feel the gravity. Make a snow angel. That feeling -- I know the other day, I kneeled down in the yard and I remember being struck by how cold my knee got, all of a sudden. Just those little sensory things that we have forgotten to pay attention to, those things really help people feel better. When you're really using all of your senses and feeling the things in your body, that does more than any medication can do.

I was at the park, and I had forgotten my headphones, and you know, I was noticing things. I almost - it sounds silly, but I almost wanted to tear up. I had such an emotional response.


Look at everything I've noticed on this walk. I saw this red-tailed hawk flying above me. I noticed that fall leaf smell. You know, the leaves are kind of wet. They're all over the ground, and I hear my feet stomping through them. And I almost wanted to tear up because I just thought - Man, what did I miss on all of these other walks?  Where I just wasn't truly in the moment?  And I wasn't - like you say - allowing myself to just be.

 Yeah. That ability to just be is a dying art. And I really think we need to figure out ways to cultivate that more.And I think, I almost mourn this in a way. I remember my childhood was spent outside. I'm the generation where our parents opened the door in the morning, and said, "Go out there. Don't come back until dinner."  Even then, they were calling for us, "Where you are?  Come home." 

My own children have not had that experience. That's not the world they live in anymore. I wonder what are their memories going to be like? 

Oh my gosh.

How does that affect what they think?  Yeah. Because my daughter isn't going to have memories of just being on her bike and exploring the town and things like that, because we don't let them do that.Whether it's fear or time or whatever, the world has just changed. And I think back to my own childhood memories and I knew every square inch of the community that I grew up in.

We used to go - there was a storm retention creek.  It was a natural creek, but it had gotten incorporated into like the storm sewer system.I grew up in the Kirkwood area.We used to go play in that creek, and play with tadpoles and throw rocks and skip rocks. We would walk up and down that creek all the time, through people's backyards.




You know, I have such amazing memories of doing that as a child.I don't know, but that was, you know, 45 years ago. In my mind, it was everyday. Who knows, maybe it was one week. I don't know.

Right. Right.

But it's such a fond memory, and it makes me feel whole when I think about those things. So, I worry about our young people. Because they're just not getting out in nature and having that experience. We need to work on that.

I've even heard people say they're worried with constantly being on your phone. Like, it's hard for people to make eye contact anymore.

Oh, yeah. It's hard for people to do anything personal. You can't even order a pizza talking to a person. You are supposed to do it on the app!  I mean, that's  . . . I don't like that.

Technology has advanced so much in a sense to - they think to bring us together, but we're almost further apart.

Oh, yeah. We're definitely further apart, and those interpersonal relationships, people don't know how to talk to each other. How many times have you been in an restaurant, you look around, and there could be four people at a table, and they're texting each other or everybody is on their phones. Nobody is talking. We really need to put it down and connect on a more personal level. And talk to people and look them in the eye and ask how their day is.


When was the last time you just asked somebody, Hey, how are you doing?  And like, really mean it.

Absolutely. Absolutely.I know that there can be some barriers people face when it comes to spending time outside. People think that really to spend time in nature, you need to be like deep in the woods. But there are green spaces everywhere, like you say. We have such great conservation areas across Missouri. Go to your local park, in your backyard. Again, nature is outdoors. It's out your door.


Right. It is just out your door. In your front yard, in your backyard, down the sidewalk. You don't have to be deep in the woods, necessarily. although I think the benefits of that are even greater than walking down the town sidewalk. But, anything people can do to be outside, I think would be helpful - mind, body, spirit.

Spending time outside - obviously sunlight is good, but, you know . . .


Not all that great for the skin! 

Right. In moderation. I think that's another reason why we're seeing a decline in Vitamin D levels, because we are using sunscreen more. That's a great thing. We don't want skin cancer, we don't want to get a sunburn. But the beneficial parts of the sun are also blocked by sunscreen.So, we have to be mindful of that.But yeah, if you don't want to wrinkle and you don't want to get skin cancer that you have to deal with later, then you definitely need to wear your sunscreen.

Dr. Allen, I really appreciate you taking the time to discuss this with me this morning. I love the idea of nature being so good for your health and just having that in your back pocket, as a little self-help, self-care.

One final thing, do you have a prescription for our listeners?  You know, what would you recommend  . . . ways for them to get outside.

Sure. If I was going to write a prescription for a patient, I would put your name, and the prescription would read, "Go outside for a minimum of 20 minutes daily.Repeat as needed." 


Without your phone, maybe? 

Yeah, without your phone. Yeah.

Dr. Allen, thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time today.

Thanks for having me, I enjoyed it.

Whether or not you're a fan of winter weather, it looks like this season is shaping up to be pretty mild in Missouri, which could mean more opportunities to get outside. I love to take advantage of milder winter days, and have friends or family over, for an evening fire. I love getting the chance to sit around the firepit with a warm drink, and connect with loved ones.


You can find more great ideas on getting outside this season on our website, or in the Missouri Conservationist Magazine. Read the digital issue or subscribe online at MissouriConservation.org. Thanks again to Dr. Jennifer Allen, and thank you for listening to Nature Boost. I'm Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation, encouraging you to take care of yourself and to get your daily dose of the outdoors.


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