The impact of nurture on our mental health

Nurture is a powerful behaviour. We often associate nurture with parenting but in essence it’s an action, that is potentially seen in all ages, within relationships. Nurture can have a positive impact on our mental health. This post will explore the potential for nurture in our own lives and the lives of these around us.

Nurture: “The process of caring for and encouraging the growth or development of someone or something”

I think we typically associate the concept of nurturing with young children. Feeding, rocking, comforting. These are all actions that we might think of as nurturing. And it’s true that this is where nurture starts. Well actually, nurture starts even before then, in the womb. Mothers will often instinctively sing to, stroke and communicate with their developing baby. And through looking after yourself in pregnancy as a mother you are nurturing your unborn child. Ideally then nurturing becomes a natural part of early childhood, enabling growth and development. Of course not everyone has experienced a nurturing childhood. But I believe that everyone craves and needs nurture. So what if we open up this definition, and apply this concept to our own relationships, as adults, to our relationships to our older teens, to our relationships to our ageing parents. What does nurture look like then? It makes sense that we are often calmed and comforted by a warm blanket, a well timed drink made by a friend or a hug. Nurture takes us back to that early desire to connect and be cared for.

Relational

Nurturing is an act, done by one person to another. It is something done within relationship. Having said that, humans are complex and we relate to ourselves as well as to other people. Therefore nurture is also a concept that can be applied to our own relationship with ourselves. The choices we make about self-care, our priorities, how we care for ourselves can be characterised by nurture or neglect. Whether it is towards another person, or ourselves, nurture is relational.

Proactive and intentional

Nurture is not something that just happens. Yes we might do it automatically, especially if its towards someone we love, and especially if we have experience of being nurtured ourselves. Sometimes it’s easy. But sometimes it doesn’t come automatically or easily. This might be because its a more difficult relationship, it might be because you haven’t experienced much nurture yourself in your own life, or it might be because you’re struggling now. For some, being nurturing towards ourselves feels unfamiliar an uncomfortable. It’s not always easy to be nurturing. But nurture is still a behaviour. It is a choice that often takes some effort. It means being proactive and intentional.

Caring and encouraging growth

These two elements are the essence of nurture. Both are valuable, and nurture really is unique in this combination. Care is about looking after, loving, being kind. When we show care to others we are valuing them, connecting, being there. Encouraging growth adds a dynamic element. This transforms nurture into this moving, developing, scaffolding concept. It’s about helping people to move into different ways of being. Applied to ourselves, it’s about considering where we are now, where we want to be, who we want to be. Learning as we go.

Why bother? Yes it seems obvious to say that nurture is beneficial. But really, it goes beyond being beneficial. Nurturing gives this message: I value you. You are worth my time and effort. You are important to me. Nurture can help us to feel calm and grounded. Nurture can restore energy. Nurture can help us understand the boundaries of our world and help us to feel contained. Nurture enables us to grow. When a relationship is characterised by nurture bonds are deepened. Not only for the person being nurtured, but also for the person who is being nurturing.

So take some time to consider the relationships in your own life. How can you nurture these around you? Do you feel that you are being nurtured by others? What can you do to nurture yourself? The concept is big but the action can be small. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Children

Young children, older children and teens

  • Rock, hug, cuddle, rough-house, tickle, comfort
  • Play, build, imagine, create
  • Read stories together
  • Do activities together
  • Put in boundaries and teach why they are there
  • Say sorry when you get it wrong
  • Support them in skills they want to develop
  • Show interest in their ideas and opinions.

Adults

Older teens, spouses, friends, adult family members.

  • Cook a meal for them
  • Listen without the distraction of screens
  • Be curious about their hopes, dreams, struggles, needs.
  • Write a letter or give a gift that will be meaningful to them
  • Do an activity together
  • Take something off their to-do list
  • Tell them how you feel about them

Ourselves

Nurturing can be an intentional form of self-care

  • Use skincare products to treat your body
  • Stretch and breathe with yoga or pilates.
  • Cook a healthy meal to nourish your body OR treat yourself to something sweet
  • Plan an evening you’ll enjoy: home with a blanket and a film or out to a posh restaurant.
  • Get in touch with close friends and tell them what you need
  • Find an animal to pet
  • Think about your own personal growth. Where do you want to be in 1 or 5 years time? What do you need to work on and what steps can you take to start?

Of course, these are just a few ideas. But I do encourage you to think about these elements of nurture. Yes it’s a natural behaviour, but it’s also proactive. It doesn’t just happen but takes intentionality. And it can really be anything that has the hallmarks or caring and encouraging growth. If you aren’t feeling good at the moment, consider if you are feeling nurtured. Do you feel cared for? Do you feel like your growth is being encouraged? If this is missing, think about how you can ask others for what you need, to feel more nurtured, and how you can proactively nurture yourself.

I hope you have found this post useful. If you are looking for more support with your mental health we can help at Imagine Therapy so please do get in touch.

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