Nature provides a healing escape for those struggling with anxieties related to COVID-19

By Emma Reilly

Elm Staff Writer

Public concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States have heightened as winter approaches. These concerns result from the increasing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations nationwide — The New York Times reported an estimated 159,121 new cases in the U.S. as of Nov. 14.

As we enter flu season, anxieties surrounding a possible return to lockdown have worsened. Health concerns, separation from family members, and increased unemployment are just a few of the fears presented by looming pandemic pressures.

Unfortunately, these fears aren’t unfounded.

“I think the next three months are going to be very challenging … I think as we enter the winter, we’re going to see continued spread. There are 42 states where hospitalizations are rising. There’s 45 states where they have expanding epidemics, and there’s really no backstop,” Scott Gottlieb with CBS said.

There is a very real possibility that COVID-19 will further disrupt life in the U.S. in the coming months.  It is important, therefore, to revisit what individuals can do to improve their lives at home, safely.

Spending time outdoors and interacting with nature is a key step in that process.

“As people move away from their daily routines, physically cut off their connections to other people, and spend more time indoors, it increases their feelings of isolation, stress, and fear,” Jay Maddock, Bita Kash, and Taylor Keys with the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice said.

Going outdoors can combat these feelings by inspiring a sense of peace and tranquility, providing a change of scenery, and encouraging physical activity.

The last thing anyone needs when feeling lonely is further isolation — but the outdoors serves as a positive outlet for escape, self-reflection, and meditation. Going for a walk, riding a bike, or even sitting outside to read a book or complete schoolwork is a great way to step away from stubborn stress and anxiety.

“A recent study found people are significantly more likely to report good health and well-being if they spend 120 minutes a week in nature … before the widespread isolation caused by COVID-19,” the American Public Health Association said.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the beneficial effects of spending time with nature have continued to ring true, even in the face of social distancing recommendations and stay-at-home orders from state and local officials.

It is essential to create opportunities for mental and physical stimulation when combating mental health struggles. The benefits of the outdoors in this regard continue to be touted by professionals in a number of fields as concerns about COVID-19 continue.

“In these times, I think our minds can be a little out of control. Part of the effect of nature is that it can soften negative conditioned mental patterns. If you can find nature, engage with it and get your heart rate down, then your mind begins to settle,” University of Washington psychology professor Peter Kahn said.

Nature is calming. It soothes the mind and soul and encourages carefree thought. Walking your dog, raking leaves, or even opening a window can go a long way toward experiencing peace of mind during the pandemic.

Whether we return to lockdown, develop a vaccine, or continue with current measures, the outdoors is the perfect opportunity for those worried about the pandemic to step away, take a breath, and relax — even if it is just for a few minutes.

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