Nature

A breath of fresh air for your mental health

Two people rowing in a canoe on a river in Badin, NC.

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of being stuck at home. While I understand the need during a global pandemic, months of “the new normal” has me missing the old one. Not being able to go to the gym, church, or the movies has got me—and a lot of other people—feeling anxious, and sometimes, pretty down. As it turns out, this is pretty normal, according to research.

Folks at the Pew Research Center have completed a number of surveys over the past couple of months and found that half of all American adults are experiencing moderate to high distress during quarantine. There is a great deal of stress, anxiety and worry about health, finances, and the future, among other things. And the longer this continues, the more people report high levels of distress. Learning how to take care of our mental health during an extended quarantine could not be more important.

There is some good news, though. There are things that every one of us can do to feel better, and a big part of feeling better is getting outside. According to research from the University of Essex in England, getting even five minutes of exercise outdoors can improve your mood and self-esteem. Other studies show that children who have a hard time paying attention (such as kids with ADHD) concentrate better after walking in a park. Even though public playgrounds may still be closed, there is nature all around us—especially here in the heart of Uwharrie National Forest, just an hour west of Charlotte. State parks are also open for business in Phase 2. Even if you can’t get to the park, here are a few things you can try to lower your stress:

  • Take a walk. All you have to do to enjoy at least a sliver of nature is open your door and step outside. Have a picnic. Again, you don’t need access to a big park to enjoy this one. Spread a blanket out on the lawn and enjoy your next meal in the great outdoors.
  • Plant a garden. Even if you missed out on planting this spring, there are still a number of veggies that you can get in the ground now and enjoy this Summer. Three to try are tomatoes, basil, and zucchini.
  • Enjoy camping. This is also something you can safely do in more places than just the state and national parks. Pitch a tent in your backyard and make some s’mores. (Just make sure you check your local burning rules if you want to have a campfire!)
  • Plan a scavenger hunt. You can do this one for the kids or invite a few friends over for some backyard fun. Put together a list of things around your house or neighborhood that will take some time to find, like a stick that resembles a peace sign or a specific type of leaf. Instead of gathering these items, maybe have teams take a picture on a smartphone. This might allow you to be even more creative.
  • Stargaze. Lay on that blanket from your picnic earlier and take in the stars. See who can find the most constellations.

No matter what you choose, get outdoors and enjoy yourself. Your mind and your body will thank you later—just don’t forget the sunscreen!

Sandra Abbey is an intern with the Three Rivers Land Trust, a conservation group dedicated to the Uwharries.