Nature Is the Antidote for Pandemic Stress

The pandemic has led to an epidemic of stress among populations around the world. People can recover from the negative mental health impacts of the crisis by being around nature.

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be a never-ending nightmare. After the United States has successfully lowered the number of new cases per day from its peak in January 2021, a new variant that is more transmissible and deadly is spreading and threatening to delay a return to normal.

The experience of living through a global public health crisis has, according to experts, led to mass trauma. COVID-19 has upended almost all aspects of life, and populations worldwide are enduring high levels of stress and emotional distress. Many people have also started exhibiting symptoms of mental health conditions.

With the end of the pandemic still far from sight, people need to improve their mental health to weather several more months of the current crisis. And, nature can help.

On Being Indoors for an Entire Year

Populations around the world spent a huge part of the past year locked inside their homes. The physical distancing recommendations and the shelter-in-place orders led to millions of people worldwide stuck in their homes for a long time.

Before the pandemic, people were already spending too much time indoors. Studies estimated that, in North America and Europe, people spent about 90 percent of their time in enclosed spaces such as offices, restaurants and stores, and their homes. Because of the pandemic, people had even less time under the sun.

Being indoors for too long is not good for either physical or mental health.

One concern is indoor air quality. Indoor air is filled with pollutants from cooking and cleaning, pet dander, dust, mold, and other sources. Breathing it in can trigger respiratory symptoms. Meanwhile, going outdoors allows people to breathe fresh air.

There is also evidence that suggests that staying indoors for long periods can lead to anxiety and insomnia. The absence of natural light and relying on artificial light all day can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, disrupting the sleep and wake cycle. This has been linked to deteriorating physical and mental well-being.

The pandemic forcing people to spend more time indoors is bad for physical and mental health. It could also be contributing to high levels of stress that a large portion of the population is currently experiencing.

The Solution

Nature, on the other hand, has healing effects. A recently published study conducted in the United Kingdom found that most adults who took a walk and spent time in green spaces felt that they could cope better with rising pandemic-related anxiety and fear.

Scientists have yet to pinpoint how the natural environment improves mental health, but numerous other studies point toward nature as an antidote to stress.

Even a 40-minute walk in a park or green spaces significantly improved mood, reduced anger, and induced recovery from mental fatigue. Exposure to nature has also been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Escape to Nature

After the pandemic, it would not be a bad idea to book salmon fishing trips to Alaska on your own or with your loved ones. While restrictions have been lifted, travel outside the United States is still very limited, and many parts of the world are still grappling with outbreaks of COVID-19. Sitting in a lake quietly for hours, breathing the fresh air, and taking a break from technology will help anyone recover from the stress born out of the current crisis.

In fact, many Americans are already taking trips to nature. During the fourth quarter of the past year, sales of outdoor gear went up. Retailers saw bicycle sales jump by 63 percent, paddle sports products by 56 percent, camping equipment by 31 percent, and bird-watching and nature sighting devices by 22 percent.

Meanwhile, visits to national parks also increased. Yellowstone had its busiest October on record in 2020 as it welcomed 110 percent more visitors than the same period from the year before.

Bookings for nature experiences are up, too. While these “forest therapies” have been rising before the pandemic, the past year really saw the concept take off. The practice called “forest bathing” does not involve cleaning yourself. It is a well-established activity in Japan known as “shinrin yoku,” which translates to “taking in the forest.” Basically, when forest bathing, participants will spend time walking in and appreciating nature.

The pandemic is a distressing event that will likely impact the lives of every person on the planet for a while. It caused a lot of stress for over a year. People should take a short break by spending time in the natural environment.

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