Aristotle says that “man is by nature a social animal.” Driven to engage with others, humans tend to thrive in environments where they are capable of interacting with their surroundings. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, humans have been removed from their typical day-to-day interactions—whether it be the office, running group, family visits, or gym crowd—and replaced them with isolation. Although we are limited to these virtual gatherings and communications, we are still deprived of the engagement that we would otherwise experience in these public spaces. With the compounding stressors of working from home and being at risk of burning out, we need something to stimulate the brain that is not a constant news binge or a new Netflix special; we need something that can keep us psychologically healthy while in isolation.
One activity, in particular, that has several positive effects on our mental health is venturing out into the great outdoors. Going outside can mean a hike you have been wanting to go on, walking your dog in the local park, or riding your bike along a new trail you found. Research studies suggest that interacting with nature can: relieves stress, improves mood, supports recovery from fatigue, and promotes prosocial behavior.
Relieves Stress: From the learning curve of using these new practices and technology to taking on more projects to being confined to the same area for work and personal life, stress can compound. In comparing the environments of urban centers to parks and wooded areas, a study revealed that short term visits to these parks and areas had a much more positive effect on relieving stress than visits made to city centers.
Improves Mood: Not being able to see our loved ones, close friends, or our favorite coworkers can be hard. One study found that individuals who walked in the outdoors had showed both a reduction in anxiety and more positive emotion than before walking.
Supports Recovery from Fatigue: In another study, scientists assessed individuals who interacted in “green spaces.” The study concluded that while the individuals were in these spaces they had much less arousal, less frustration, and higher meditation. All of these results suggested that these environments are conducive to restorative therapy.
Promotes Prosocial Behavior: Through a series of studies, a lab analyzed whether or not individuals who viewed “beautiful nature” were more helpful and positive after viewing. The studies found that individuals did in fact have positive emotions and tendencies after viewing natural beauty.
COVID-19 has certainly flipped the world as we knew it on its head. These implications have altered how we interact with coworkers, families, and friends. When we are limited to as few interactions as possible, we need to ensure that we do not get burnt out while working in isolation. So when you take your next break during work, instead of turning to the television or the computer, turn to the outdoors and take a stroll.
With Forward Virginia advancing in its stages, we still need to pay attention to COVID-19 guidelines when traveling outdoors. Know before you go and check for any new alerts; Keep a distance of six feet when/if you interact with others outside; Bring face coverings; Trek your trash out; Limit groups to small sizes; Have an alternative park to visit should the one be at max capacity.
Connor Eads is a Virginia Management Fellow who currently is serving his second rotation at the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), after serving previously at the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR).
Picture Taken from: https://www.visitroanokeva.com/blog/post/7-iconic-overlooks-blue-ridge-parkway-in-virginia-blue-ridge-mountains/