The global Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic has completely disrupted our normal way of life. Many of us who were driving to work are now telecommuting from home. Those who are less fortunate have found themselves without a job. If you’re a parent – congratulations! You’re now also a full-time teacher.
Even with some states lifting restrictions, many of us are still living under a “stay-at-home” order with limited ability to socialize, exercise, or get some fresh air.
Some of us might be quite content with this new status-quo of staying inside, playing video games, and stuffing our faces with homemade “quarantine burritos” (I’m guilty myself). However, the effects of this new lifestyle on your physical and mental health are more significant than you might think…
The Psychological Effects of Isolation
It’s okay to occasionally hide under a blanket and binge watch Netflix. No one’s going to lose their marbles if they find you cocooned in your Snuggie watching Tiger King (unless it’s the seventh time that week).
However, odds are good that during this time period, most of us have gotten way cozier with these…well… “less than healthy” habits. Unfortunately, these couch-marathons come at a cost.
The negative physical effects of this phenomenon are obvious (you’re not moving, dummy). However, living like a sloth in front of a TV or computer can also have harmful effects on your mental state as well.
Excessive internet use, something we’re doing already, can easily lead to addiction and depression. For example, a study conducted in 2010 suggests that those of use who are glued to our phones and TVs are more likely to show symptoms of depression.
“…there was a close relationship between [internet addiction] tendencies and depression, such that [internet addicted] respondents were more depressed…”Morrison, C., & Gore, H. (2010).
The internet has revolutionized our way of life. It’s made daily life simpler and easier. However, for the sake of our health, we must be careful about how we manage it. Addiction to the internet is a very real thing. If you find yourself unable to go five minutes without checking your phone, it may mean that you’re heading down a bumpy road.
Being in a state of quarantined-isolation certainly hasn’t helped us manage our addiction to online entertainment. However, if we are able to get outside each day, even for just a little bit, it can make a massive difference.
The Psychological Benefits of being in Nature
Fresh air and sunshine. So simple, yet rejuvenating.
Though my opinions are mostly founded upon my personal experiences, many studies have suggested that being surrounded by the natural environment, or even the illusion of it, can have positive effects on your psyche.
For the vast majority of humanity’s time on earth, we lived much closer to nature. We have only recently (relatively) started flocking to concrete jungles and living under steel canopies. Though my wife and I have recently moved to a large city, we are thankful everyday that we live one-block away from a 15-acre park filled with trees, grass, and open air. Without that green space, I can confidently say that we would be having a much more difficult time.
There are many positive benefits of being in nature (or even just going outside):
- Elevate your Vitamin D levels (a deficiency can contribute to mental health issues).
- Clear your mind with a walk around the block .
- Keep your body moving, relaxed, and get rid of stiffness.
- Just 20 minutes in nature will reduce your stress hormones.
- A few short walks per day can reduce your blood pressure.
Going outside during quarantine is crucial for everyone’s mental health. Of course, now is not the time to get complacent. Social-distancing is more important than ever to keep the spread of the virus at bay, especially if you live in an area that’s heavily affected. However, we still must have the courage to venture outside, for the sake of our own health.
Fun and safe activities you can do outside during quarantine.
Common sense prevails here: if you’re going to be outside, but within close contact of other people for a long period of time – don’t do it! This would totally negate the fact that you’ve been quarantined for the past two months. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do outside during quarantine that are safe, fun, and super easy to get started.
Go for a walk
I don’t live under a stupid rock – I’m quite aware that not everyone enjoys running. That’s why the very first thing I’d suggest doing is going for a walk.
You literally don’t need to buy anything to get started doing this. Put on any pair of shoes (and clothes, please) and walk out your door.
The dividends to be paid by doing a simple 15-20 minute walk around the block in your flip-flops are huge. Not only will you lower your blood pressure and stress levels (as referenced above), but you’ll also get to soak in a bit of Vitamin D. Even if it’s cloudy outside, UV rays can still easily reach your skin.
There’s not much more I can say about this: just go for a walk.
Go for a run!
Ah yes, my favorite: running. Or more accurately (if I’m feeling like a sack of bricks), jogging.
It’s a love-hate relationship, but mostly loving. This is something I love to do in the mornings when traveling somewhere new, especially in cities. There’s something truly invigorating about running through a new urban environment early in the morning before everyone’s woken up. It’s a great way to see a different, quieter side of life in a crowded place.
It’s definitely not as easy as it once was to get outside in the morning and run. Just six or seven years ago, I was doing marathon distance runs. But now, I definitely have my fair share of aches and pains (especially in my feet, knees, and back) that were compounded upon with my time in the military.
It goes against my instincts, but I’m always up and out of the house by 6:30am to take our dog on a walk/jog. It usually hurts getting started…there’s sharp pain in my feet, I’ll feel tweaks in my back and knees…but once I get going and feel the endorphin rush afterwards, it’s always worth it.
I started running my sophomore year of high school because I eventually wanted to join the military and be fit to do the job.
I joined the cross country team and it was TERRIBLE. I sucked.
But, I stuck with it and now I love running. When I read the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall in college, I was inspired me to run my first ultra-marathon. The super-human traits that the tribes exemplified in that book seemed so incredible, I wanted to experience it for myself. Though it was a very painful 50k (I didn’t train nearly enough), it was a rewarding experience.
From personal experience, I think it’s normal to dislike running when you first get started. It’s a delayed gratification type of thing. But what better time to get outside and try something new that will make you feel better afterwards?
There may not be a better way to get outside during quarantine (and truly experience the serenity of nature) than going fishing.
If you’ve never “gone fishing” before, it’s a very easy to get started with minimal equipment. Depending on where you live (check out catfish noodling) you could even fish with your bare hands! Though I’ve never done it, I have friends and family that have “gone noodling” before and had a great time. Just be careful of snapping turtles!
The easiest way to get started would be fresh water fishing at a pond or lake. When I lived in Virginia, I used to go fishing several times a week after work at a few local spots around neighborhoods and golf courses. Depending on where you live, you can catch different types of bass, perch, trout, sunfish, and the list goes on.
It’s a fantastic way to set your mind to “diffuse-mode”, unplug, and enjoy life in the moment. Paying attention and focusing on the process of fishing really helps one focus on experiencing the natural world.
But before your grab your tackle box and beers, be sure to check out your local and state guidelines. On a case-by-case basis, some states are starting to allow catch-and-release fishing at state parks as restrictions are slightly eased.
go for a picnic
This one is great for couples and families. If the weather’s nice, what better way to spend the day than enjoying the groceries you hoarded…ahem…I mean bought, out in the fresh air!
Bring a kite, bring a few drinks, maybe bring music (just please refrain from blasting Skrillex), and don’t forget to bring some great food to enjoy. My wife and I have done this at our local park, and I’ve noticed an increasing amount of people outside as the weather improves. The best part about this is you can get creative about where you do it: a local city park, your backyard, a state park, or wherever looks enjoyable! Just remember, if you’re in a public space, be sure to check your local guidelines since many states are still enforcing their own restrictions.
Don’t get complacent.
Obviously we are living in an situation with a lot of uncertainty. Some places seem better than others, and some seem to improving faster. However, despite any good news that may have been announced, it’s imperative that we make our own judgements based on the guidelines disseminated by our local governments.
We are all being faced with a decision between risk and safety. As long as we are cautious, listen to the latest CDC guidance, and pay attention to our local news, there is no reason why we can’t enjoy the outdoors.