Within the last few weeks, I have experienced emotions related to the pandemic that have caused me to reflect deeply on the different ways I’ve coped with anxiety and fear of what’s to come. What I’ve realized is that, in my opinion, those of us who love the outdoors may feel holistically better if we find ways to return to our routines of spending time in nature. Maybe some would doubt that statement or feel it is far fetched; my intention isn’t to minimize or gaslight, but rather to remind you that you are strong, prepared, and capable.
A crisis is best defined as a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or fear; it seems fair to say that during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are experiencing a time of crisis. When we perceive trouble or threat, as most of us currently are, our nervous system automatically steps up to protect us using something known as fight or flight. The fight or flight response may cause a racing heart, tense muscles, sweating, and many more reactions– all designed to help us fight a threat or to flee it. Children are also amazing at letting us know when they are feeling sad, afraid, or threatened. What looks like defiance, temper tantrums, or shutting down, is often their nervous system’s way of communicating their need for protection and safety. While the fight or flight response is very effective in the short term, prolonged stress, like the current global pandemic, is tough on our bodies. That’s why it’s important to identify strategies to keep us calm.
One way to deal with a crisis is by finding ways to return to your baseline functioning, in other words, getting back to what is closely considered “normal”. For those of us in the outdoor community, that means getting back to nature. According to research, regularly getting outdoors has the ability to increase endorphins that elevate mood and feelings of joy and happiness. As a therapist who works with adolescents and adults in wilderness and nature settings, I have seen the link of mental health improvements with being out regularly in nature. Some of these improvements include a decrease in negative beliefs about self and others, increase in utilizing coping skills and greater resilience, strength, and grit to overcome problems and crisis (Bowen, Neil & Crisp, 2016).
You see, as lovers of the outdoors, adventure mamas, community starters, and leaders, we can easily get emotionally caught up in the fear and the anxiety of the unknown– a normal survival reaction, physiologically. Many of our lives have shifted in ways that may seem unmanageable and that alone, can make us feel like we have no sense of control.
But I am a firm believer that our prior ability and freedom to play outside, before COVID-19, prepared us in many ways for this time. Regularly playing outdoors provides us with essential assets that we can use in the front country during a crisis. Even on my hardest days, I am reminded that I have tools and skills that allow me to respond, not react, in a time of crisis. Through this time, I have integrated these wilderness tools and skills into my day to day life as much as I can to maintain a sense of normalcy. This is my nervous system’s way of getting back to routine and putting into practice what I’ve absorbed out in nature, what nature has gifted me with all these years.
People often ask me why I love the outdoors and my question in return is always why wouldn’t I? I have seen what nature does for those who experience anxiety, depression, and fear. When we engage with our past experiences and crisis in a natural setting, it better prepares us to lean into the discomfort and unknown of our everyday world. One’s ability to get lost in nature is one’s ability to stand grounded in the chaos of everyday life.
Our resilience and ability to heal is present and will always be present; especially when we are able to return to our roots deep in nature.
Bowen, D. J., Neill, J. T., & Crisp, S. J. R. (2016). Wilderness adventure therapy effects on the mental health of youth participants doi://doi- org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2016.05.005