We spend a considerable amount of time thinking about what to put on AJN’s covers, and we rarely use nature photos. But these turbulent times call for an image that offers a sense of serenity and calm. As I write this at the end of October, at the height of final campaign pushes for the midterm elections, things are far from calm. We are bombarded with political ads on television, radio, and social media, and receive an onslaught of annoying robocalls on our phones. And no doubt after the elections are over, we'll be subjected to endless analyses of the results. I find this constant “news awareness” stressful.
The cover photo, which shows the Merced River in Yosemite National Park in California, reminds me of the Catskill region of New York, where I am a frequent visitor. When I visit this region, with its rolling hills, meandering streams, and open fields, my shoulders relax and my body feels lighter. As a daily commuter to New York City, I marvel that one can drive for miles in the Catskills before seeing another car on the road. Walks along country roads and trails leave me tired but also refreshed. It's a wonderful way to clear your head and to think clearly and with more focus. And now, there's research to support the health benefits of walking in the woods.
“Forest bathing”—translated from the Japanese term Shinrin-yoku—developed as a preventative health care practice in Japan in the 1980s. It involves mindfulness and being present—taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest. It's no surprise, given what we know about the benefits of walking and holistic practices like meditation and deep breathing, that research on forest bathing shows positive health effects. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2017 in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine examined 20 trials conducted in Japan, Korea, and China and involving 732 participants. Researchers found there were “significant effects of the forest environment on a reduction in blood pressure” and “a larger effect on lowering [systolic blood pressure] in people with high blood pressure.”
The peaceful nature of our cover seems especially relevant in December, the last month of the year and a time when many people reflect on the preceding year. When I think back on AJN’s past year, I think about those articles we've published that have had an impact or struck a chord with readers. Especially gratifying was our series of articles and videos to aid nurses in teaching skills to family caregivers (see https://journals.lww.com/ajnonline/Pages/caregivercollection.aspx), which were developed as part of our work with AARP's Home Alone Alliance. Readers have lauded the content, especially the tear-out tip sheets nurses can give to caregivers. (We'll be continuing the series next year.) The research on oral intake during labor, which supports abandoning the routine practice of nothing by mouth, was a favorite. Also notable was research on the hospital experience of older adults with hearing impairments, our Cultivating Quality articles showcasing nursing-led initiatives to improve care, and review articles on the health risks of too much sitting and breast cancer screening guidelines.
While I try to be mindful and present during my forest bathing walks, invariably they include thinking about AJN and what content we should cover. Our mission to provide nurses with the evidence they need to inform their clinical practice, keep abreast of professional issues, and respond to the health needs of the public they serve mandates we cover a broad array of issues and topics. Our domain includes everything from clinical updates to research to broad policy issues. And while sometimes the content we cover can be inspiring and uplifting, there are just as many articles about topics that can be difficult, frustrating, or even heartbreaking.
It's those times when I need my forest walk—and to heed the words of Wendell Berry, a poet and environmentalist. This is from his poem, “The Peace of Wild Things”:
“When despair for the world grows in me…. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water…. I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
I wish you all peaceful holidays.