Nature During COVID-19
Temporarily closed. Those words have become a constant in our lives since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools, malls, gyms, restaurants, workplaces deemed non-essential and other places that were once intertwined in our daily routines have shut their doors indefinitely as we navigate this new norm and practice social distancing. But one thing has remained the same throughout this time of uncertainty—our love of nature, even during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
While the human world has been adjusting to major changes, the natural world hasn’t paused, it hasn’t wavered and it hasn’t come to a standstill. If anything, spring has reminded us of the continuation of life during this time of renewal. Nature’s life cycle, visible in both plants and animals, is a not-so-subtle reminder that a pandemic can’t halt everything. The leaves have turned green again, wildflowers are blooming and animals are caring for new offspring. Nature during COVID-19 is proof that life continues in what may seem like an upside-down world.
Getting outdoors and enjoying nature has never been so important. Engaging in outdoor exercise such as walking, hiking, running or biking was deemed an essential activity during Maryland’s stay-at-home order. In comparison to other states, Maryland has had few trail closures. In fact, most of the state’s public lands have remained open for day use throughout the pandemic.
Nature Rx for Health & Wellness
So why should getting outside be an important part of our daily health and wellness routines? Researchers have found that moving outdoors has more therapeutic value for your health than moving indoors. Connecting or re-connecting with nature offers a multitude of health benefits for the mind, body and spirit. In fact, just 120 minutes of contact with nature every week is associated with better health and wellness.
Scientific evidence has shown that exposure to nature can improve anxiety, depression, immune function, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Time in the outdoors reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and fuels creativity. It also lowers blood pressure and heart rate, improving the health of those with chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes.
Bestselling author Richard Louv writes about the benefits of nature in his book “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age.” Louv says, “For the jaded and weary among us, the outdoor world can expand our senses and reignite a sense of awe and wonder not felt since we were children; it can support better health, enhanced creativity, new careers and business opportunities, and act as a bonding agent for families and communities. Nature can help us feel fully alive.”
Mindfulness in Nature
Practicing mindfulness in nature is the best way to reap the health benefits and even boost your immune function. You don’t have to climb a mountain or hike a long distance. Going to a greenspace and mindfully connecting with your senses is a great starting point. What do you see? What colors and fractal patterns occur in nature? Do you see any wildlife or insects moving? What do you hear? Do you hear birds chirping? Is there a breeze rustling through the leaves on the trees? Do you notice any smells? Are there evergreens nearby? Are there wildflowers nearby that have a scent? Find an object in nature you can touch, being careful to avoid poison ivy. What does the bark of a tree feel like? How does moss feel when you run your open palm over it? How do the sun’s warm rays feel on your face? Exploring your sense of taste in nature is best done with a seasoned outdoor guide who is knowledgeable in the areas of ethical foraging and outdoor edibles.
You don’t have to travel to extraordinary places to experience awe in nature. Oftentimes it can be found in your own backyard or at a local park. What it does take is connecting in that moment and noticing your surroundings—the songbirds calling back and forth in the trees, the delicate beauty of a wildflower in bloom, the smell of a pine grove or the soothing sounds of a mountain stream trickling over rocks. The sense of being in the presence of something greater than ourselves has a way of filling us with wonder and making the rest of our worries dissipate.