I had been sitting at my desk staring at my computer since 8:15 am. After working all day, I was unable to concentrate. This left me feeling stressed that I wouldn’t be able to complete all of my assignments on time. It was then that I realized I was being so unproductive that I needed to take a break and go on a walk outside. During my walk, I noticed all of the fall colors, and didn’t even think about all of the things going on back at my desk. Once I got back from the 20 minute walk down my road, I felt as though I had pressed a reset button and all of that stress and inability to focus was no longer there.
Because COVID-19 has forced many things to go remote, we are now forced to spend a lot of time in front of screens to get our work done, go to school, and even to socialize. Nowadays, it is especially important to take breaks from our screens and spend time outside. Getting that time in nature is necessary to help both our physical and mental health during this time.
According to “Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health” by Yale Environment 360, it only takes a minimum of 120 minutes spent outside per week to feel healthy and have a strong sense of well being. This could be less than 20 minutes every day, or all 120 minutes in one day and you would still feel those benefits. Many people have found it hard to get even 120 minutes in a week. This is why this is more important now more than ever to be aware of these benefits, and schedule time for this into our day.
Social isolation has become much more prevalent with all of what is happening right now. According to local psychologist Dr. Hadassah Ramsay, she has seen an increase in depression, anxiety, and social isolation. “We are human beings and for the most part we’re social beings, and there’s a continuum. Some people are very outgoing and extroverted, and some people are introverted, but everyone has social needs, and getting those met is an important piece of mental health and our wellbeing,” said Ramsay. A safer way that we can get those needs met includes gathering outside.
I myself have felt very isolated and find that now I only connect with a fraction of the people that I would normally see in school. I would say that I have felt much more distant even with my closest friends, and have only been able to see a few of them. It has become more evident now how beneficial spending time outside is. Being able to go outside and hang out with these people has allowed me to meet my social needs in a safe way. A few ways I like to do this are by playing high school sports, going on walks, and having socially distant picnics.
All of us need social interaction, and although some of that can be over social media, there needs to be a balance, which is something Ramsay stresses. “Generally what I say in terms of mental health, is that a balance is always important. It’s not bad to sit in front of a screen, but it needs to be in a balanced way, because too much of anything is just not a good idea,” said Ramsay.
Along with social benefits, there are many mental benefits of getting time outside. According to “11 Reasons you Should go Outside” by Business Insider, getting into nature can help with stress relief, mental energy, concentration, and sharper thinking. This is because when you are stressed your body releases a hormone called cortisol. When you are immersed in nature, this hormone, along with your heart rate, is lowered.
Along with lowering stress, going outside allows you to relax, lowers anxiety, and improves overall mood, this is according to “Why being outside is good for your mental health” by Lumino Health. Right now it is so easy to get lost in what is going on in the world and in our lives. It is so important to find time where we can fully disconnect with the world around us and get back in tune with ourselves, by spending time outside.
It is so easy to just be sedentary in front of a screen all day. I myself have experienced this after working on schoolwork. I sometimes find myself sitting and watching a show or some YouTube videos. That’s because it is the easiest option, and I’m already there, which is an issue. There needs to be some motivation and planning involved to actually get up and do something healthy for my body. School counselor Kim Sekera noticed this in her family as well. “It doesn’t take any energy and it’s easy because you are already there anyhow. But it’s how you force yourself to say it is in my best interest to take a break and go for a walk because then you will be more engaged,” she said.
The hardest part is being able to force yourself to step away and have that break. That motivation is what so many people struggle with, but Dr. Ramsay has a solution for this. “One big thing I recommend for my clients is that they get very intentional with how they spend their day so that they become aware of the responsibilities that they have for work or school, and then before the day begins, figure out where they’re gonna take their breaks and then commit to getting outside and having a change of environment.”
I have found that if I actually block that time out of my day then I am much more likely to spend time outside. Once I block that out, I find that it is much easier to motivate myself to get up and do something healthy. If I can get outside in a day and maybe even get some exercise, I find that I am able to concentrate more, I feel more productive, and overall just more relaxed. Vinny Golden (‘21) has experienced similar things. “Mentally I definitely feel more relaxed. I’ve always liked the outdoors since I was a young kid, so it’s always been a place I go to escape, get away from things, get away from my phone, and I think it’s very therapeutic,” he said.
There are many easy ways to get outside, whether that is going for a walk, a bike ride, or just sitting. “You don’t have to have gear. Just going for a walk is really nice and still very healthy,” said Sekera.
Some prefer other activities that require some equipment. “Surfing is a big one for me. It really takes me away from the screen entirely. You can go hiking in the middle of nowhere and people will still be connected, whereas with surfing no one is out there with a phone and everyones disconnected with everything and just hanging out,” said Golden.
Whether you have gear or not, a smart thing to do is to have some sort of menu of activities to provide options. “That diversity really helps with motivation, it keeps it interesting, it keeps it fun, and it keeps it different,” said Ramsay.
Now that it is getting colder and transitioning into winter, it will be harder to find things to do outside. You may even lose that motivation to go outside like you do when it’s a nice, sunny, fall day out. But it is still just as important for both your physical and mental health. Although your activities may be limited, there are still many easy ways to go outside such as going for a walk, a run, ice skating, taking pictures, and many different snow activities.
I urge everyone to get this time outside in order to be more present for other aspects of our lives. Sekera said, “I think it should have the same importance as attending class. Students should carve going outside into their schedule the same way they are for attending classes.”