Staying at home and social distancing might be the easiest thing to tell a writer. I’m two sides of a coin — my mood dictates where I land — so isolation is already encoded into my DNA. But COVID-19 is now telling me I have no choice in the matter, making it feel more like a mental imprisonment than a solitary act.
After five days of abiding by the rules, only going to and from the grocery store, I was one bad reference away from being called Mort Rainey or Jack Torrence (two Stephen King characters who go crazy in isolation), minus the whole murderous rampage thing. Five days. Was the cause actually staying in? Or knowing that the entire world was changing? Either way, frigid temperatures and mild winds couldn’t stop the medicine for which my soul craved. So, I took to the outdoors.
According to an article published by Harvard Medical School in 2018, getting outside can be the easiest way to improve our mood. Walking through nature reduces our negative emotions and repetitive thoughts, activity sited in the prefrontal cortex of our brains. Beyond the physical activity of walking, even just listening to sounds associated with an outside setting lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels (the stress hormone).
Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at the Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance, recommends 20 to 30 minutes, three days a week in a natural environment. Whether you’re walking or just sitting and observing, taking in the fresh air, sounds, and visuals of a non-urban setting can boost our mental state.
Heeding this advice, I made my way to the beach one day and a county park the next. From the sounds of the waves crashing on the shoreline to the sight of the blooming cherry blossoms, I grounded myself in nature. I dug my hands deep into the soft sand below me, touched the pink and white flowers above me, and I was calm.
Beyond the physical benefits of my nature walks, I felt a deep-rooted shift in perspective on the current COVID-19 pandemic. Humanity may be at a standstill, or so we’re aiming to be, but the world continues. Seasons will still change, the sun will still rise, birds will still sing, and waves will still crash on the shoreline, as it all has done millennia before this. Nature will always be there for us. So, while we’re isolating ourselves and trying not to become the real-life version of a Stephen King novel, get outside. It will save your sanity.