With COVID-19 overshadowing our every plan, it can become mentally exhausting trying to live a “normal” life, or at least life as it was pre-COVID. For me, my job went virtual and everything shut down in my area. I, like so many others, lost interactions with my peers and students and the ability to travel. At first, it did not seem so bad but then I began to feel constricted, locked away with decreased meaningfulness I normally found in everyday life. Then I discovered the outdoors and running.
Now, I have been a runner for a few years; however, after COVID-19 started I really fell in love with running and with the outdoors. I started to notice that I was looking forward to going to my local trail and running. It gave me hope. Running, an activity that I had previously tolerated, suddenly became an activity that brought me joy and peace. There is really nothing like taking an early morning run and seeing the beauty of the orange sunrise over the lake while hearing the birds chirping around you. It brings you back to the present. The sound of your breath mixing with the crunch of the dirt beneath your feet as your heartbeat gives life to you. Gives hope to you.
Now imagine if everyone could experience this feeling from simply being outdoors. This does not mean you need to be an Olympic runner or even a fast walker. Anyone can enjoy a moment outside while watching the beauty of nature unfold around them. Anyone can gather hope from nature. So, my challenge to you, is to take a moment for yourself and go outside, appreciate the world around you. Let it bring you hope and peace.
Being near to nature has been shown to reduce stress levels (Thompson et. Al, 2012). Reducing stress is one of the main reasons I have come to love running in nature so much after COVID-19 struck. Being in nature allows me to center myself and be mindful of the present. Along with being in nature, the physical act of running also provides a release of tension from the body. If running is not your cup of tea, then perhaps just sitting in nature while practicing progressive muscle relaxation to assist with reduction of tension and stress in the body.
Progressive muscles relaxation consists of tensing up a group of muscles for 5 seconds before releasing the muscle tension. It starts from the top of the head and moves down to the toes, one muscle area at a time. For example, begin in a seated position or lay down on a picnic blanket. Then begin tensing the forehead (without causing pain) for 5 seconds before relaxing the muscles of your forehead. Continue to do this with your shoulders, arms, and hands until you get down to your feet. Let your body slowly relax and relieve tension so you can enjoy sitting in nature.
So, the next time you are feeling the COVID-19 blues, go outside and absorb the world around you. Allow yourself time to yourself to take a breath and focus on how you feel right now, at this very moment. Are you sad? Do you feel frustrated? Let your thoughts tumble out as you take deep breaths and focus on how the grass or bench feels beneath you. Focus on your breaths as air enters and leaves the body. Practice progressive muscle relaxation if that feels right for you, or just allow yourself to take in the beauty of nature around you. You have freedom in choosing what feels best for your health and well-being.
Here is a video that you may find helpful for practicing progressive muscle relaxation: https://youtu.be/86HUcX8ZtAk
Author: Vanessa Rich is an MOT student at UT Tyler and a COTA who works in the school system and recently ran the Disney Marathon.
Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation | Michigan Medicine. (2019). Retrieved 7 July 2020, from https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2225
Thompson, C. W., Roe, J., Aspinall, P., Mitchell, R., Clow, A., and Miller, D., (2012). More green space is linked to less stress in deprived communities: evidence from salivary cortisol patterns. Landscape Urban Plann. 105, 221–229. doi: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2011.12.015