This pandemic, with its isolation and social distancing rules, has created many challenges for pretty much everyone. Elderly and single people have been living in extreme isolation for months, while others, such as families, have been cramped together at home day after day. Many people have lost their jobs or have had their working hours greatly reduced. As most Americans live paycheck to paycheck, often with little to no savings, the recent financial breakdown has put a stress on families and couples that we have not seen since the Great Depression. The rate of domestic violence and child abuse has risen, as has the rate of people filing for divorce. For families that are able to keep their jobs and work from home, they report that their domestic workloads have greatly increased with the need to simultaneously manage homeschooling and childcare. Governmental assistance, such as stimulus packages and unemployment checks, have been delayed or simply never arrive. It may be fair to say that stress is at an all-time high.
However, even in the midst of all the serious fallout many people have experienced, some have discovered silver linings in the pandemic. Because of the current restrictions on social interaction, some people have found themselves looking to more simple pleasures for enjoyment. It has become increasingly common to see people outdoors, often in the streets enjoying walks, runs, or bike rides. Americans are rediscovering the solace and enjoyment nature provides.
In fact, there is much scientific evidence showing that spending time outdoors has tremendous health benefits. In a July 2018 Harvard Health Study, scientists found that a mere 30 minutes in nature can significantly reduce negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, anger, and sadness. When a person is in nature, the activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that governs executive function, is quieted, which cultivates a more peaceful state of mind. Consequently, cortisol–the hormone responsible for stress–is greatly reduced. Additionally, in a June 2015 Stanford Health Study, researchers analyzed brain scans of people who walked in a natural setting compared to those of people who walked in an urban setting. The results showed that, for those walking in nature, the activity in the part of the brain responsible for depression was calmed. Essentially, people stop “ruminating” when in nature—a mental state that often signals the onset of a depressive episode.
Evidently, nature is a powerful antidote for us. According to American biologist Edward O. Wilson, humans are genetically programmed to find even just a scene of nature comforting. Simply looking at a natural landscape is scientifically proven to be soothing to the mind. This is great news for those who live in urban environments and do not have immediate access to nature to where they may escape. Putting up posters or magazine pages depicting natural settings to look at throughout the day will help lower one’s stress levels. With most events, there is an upside, a take-away, a silver lining–and this pandemic has allowed an opportunity to rediscover the soothing health benefits that spending time in nature provides. Whether it is by hiking, running, walking or simply sitting in a tranquil place outdoors, we de-stress and nurture our minds and spirit. We must remind ourselves to appreciate our surroundings so that we may fully benefit from the curative powers nature holds for us all.
Author: Sophia Austin