Spending time outdoors is more essential than it has ever been as countries continue to lock their citizens down, quarantined in their own homes. In a way, this pandemic has robbed us of a privilege that we never thought we’d lose- the outdoors and all of its greatness, it’s limitless benefits, its healing nature, and it’s kind receptiveness in any environment.
Trying to write on this topic during a season that reveals new data and “best practices” on a daily, even hourly basis can be tiring and conflicting after a few days. America is slowly starting to accept the reality of our new world just as we have watched China do before us.“The mood in Wuhan, where the virus originated, changed throughout the lockdown- rapidly from shock to acceptance” Lin Yang, an epidemiologist at Hong Kong Polytechnic University explained.
Accepting Our New Reality
Trying to abide by state mandates and to recognize first world problems, like losing access to public lands and parks, can help reality set in, a hard reality for people who are having trouble accessing basic essentials at this time. A reality that dissolves selfish reasoning and justification to “go back to real life” for a day. That being said, not being able to go outside as a healthy release to help decrease stress and depression has removed something humans rely on during times like these.
Some encourage going outside in fear of a global mental health decline. We hear conflicting information by health organizations and shaky politicians that are undoubtedly just as unfamiliar with this territory as we are. The countries that were sick before us and continue to be hit hard with precautionary measures are the only case studies we have for this pandemic.
A survey conducted by the Chinese Psychology Society this month found that of 18,000 people tested for anxiety related to the epidemic, 42.6% registered positive responses. More than 20% of those who also had post-traumatic stress disorder assessments had obvious symptoms.
How can getting outdoors help with mental health during this uncertain period across our world? Is going outside to help boost our moods selfish and irresponsible? I have talked with stakeholders across Washington state this week including representatives of the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Washington State Parks, and the Washington Trail Association to navigate the answer.
What’s the Verdict?
We have to get creative here. I call it “finding the in-betweens”. This means we need to look for the open trail that nobody knows about, or the park on the outside of our hometown. Gaze around you and discover adventures you’ve been blind to in the past, drive around backroads you’ve never explored, or go camping in your own backyard for the hell of it.
A Few Black and White Tips
- Stay 6 feet away from others
- If you feel sick, stay home
- Go to the bathroom before you leave
- Take caution
- Stay regional
- Go to less popular areas
- Use hand sanitizer as you go
Clear Your Mind First
Intuition and clear-headedness is important here. Someone in the rural Northwest may be able to meet up with a friend at the trailhead and spend time together while taking both hygienic and required social distancing measures. Someone in New York might find the same escape in a simple walk in the neighborhood- use your best judgment. But before anything else, let’s use this pause to nourish our bodies, minds, and spirits to hone that judgment, therefore sharpening our swords of decision-making power.