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Call of the Wild: Why We are Craving Nature During the COVID-19 Pandemic

 

Dr. Amanda Wetegrove-Romine, Psych Hike

Our profession, and our world, are in uncertain times. Information is evolving rapidly and we are being asked to transform the way we live, work, and unwind. With COVID-19 spreading across our communities, we must stay in and get behind the screen to interact with our clients, families, and friends. The call to shelter in place and practice social distancing has many of us looking to connect with nature, asking our clients to access greenspaces where they can and searching for ways in which we can do the same. What does this resurgence of interest in the outdoors mean?

In the 1980s, Harvard University biologist Edward Wilson proposed biophilia, the theory that humans are instinctively drawn towards nature. However, as a society we are far removed from the outdoors, with the average American spending about 90% of their time indoors. Journalist Richard Louv even developed a term to describe the absence of greenspaces in our lives: nature deficit disorder. Whether nature really is essential remains debatable, but the scientific evidence is crystal clear that spending time outdoors improves our mood, decreases rumination, and improves our attention, focus, and concentration. In these trying times, we are worried about the health of our clients, friends, families, and ourselves. We are consuming a constant stream of anxiety-provoking news and have reached information overload and mental fatigue. Our own financial livelihoods are at risk in some cases. We don’t know what the future holds.

More than ever, people are eager to reap the mental health benefits of nature. Fortunately, nature can be found almost everywhere! Most of us can still follow safety precautions and guidelines established by health institutes like the Centers for Disease Control while we get outdoors. We can respect the health of our neighbors and keep ourselves and our families safely distanced. If you have a yard or a patio, balcony, porch, or window that looks out on green shrubs and trees, you have access to nature. Even looking at a picture of a natural environment is proven to have positive effects on our mood.

Nature is the ultimate one-stop shop in helping us rest and restore, which is why people are being called to greenspaces now. Many of us are juggling multiple roles during our work day and late into the evenings, filling in as teacher or tutor to our school-aged children, full-time cook to our families who are home all day, and mediator to restless and irritable children who are stuck indoors, isolated from their friends, and scared because they don’t understand what is happening around them. Because spending time outdoors together can increase unity, cohesiveness, and even self-discipline, consider walking through a greenspace as a family if you are able to. If your access to a greenspace is limited, look at pictures of nature scenes in a book or on your computer or phone and guide your families in talking about the thoughts and feelings the pictures elicit.

While we move our work home, it is easy to be distracted. We may even find our home environment to be chaotic with many family members trying to maintain their routines and do their work in close quarters. Studies have shown that even a short amount of time outdoors can have micro-restorative effects on the brain. If you notice your attention wandering during the workday, taking a short break in nature can help you refocus your and improve concentration. What’s more, taking a longer stroll outdoors, like in the morning or after work, can decrease worries and rumination on current events and personal problems that have surfaced as a result. If you are having trouble winding down in the evening and disconnecting, early morning exposure to natural light is ideal to get restful sleep.

Nature provides rest and restoration for those of us navigating the stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Spending time in nature, whatever that looks for us right now, shifts our attention and helps us recharge our fatigued minds, building the resiliency we will need to get through the days and months ahead of us.

 
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