Amidst A Pandemic, Is Time Outdoors Saving Us From Ourselves?
Positive Thoughts & Observations From A COVID-19 World
By Chris Eddy, CEO of Blipic
I’m just going to go ahead and put it out there… How good is Nature right now?!?
Articles referencing the science behind nature’s benefits have circled the internet for years. Touting things like stress reduction, strengthened immune systems, and balanced hormones. Fresh air is germicidal. Sunshine kills viruses. Nature gives you wings! While I fully subscribe to this science… This is not one of those articles.
Let’s look beyond the science, to the social and societal, human element. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), Americans spend 93% of their time indoors. Our routines, and all that we pack into each day, give us tunnel vision. Many forget to slow down, escape built environments, and disconnect from our career mindset. While we may be more digitally connected, we’re actually more socially isolated than at any point in time. In times of uncertainty, it’s easy to retreat to the comforts of our modern homes.
When COVID-19 hit, there were a lot of questions. “Shelter-In-Place” and “Social Distancing” became commonly used terms around the world. Having founded a business based on the idea of spending more time outdoors, together, we paused for a moment. Hunkered down, and watched how folks would respond. Some panicked, and rightfully so.
What then emerged was inspiring.
“Nothing like a good ‘ol global pandemic to remind us how good time outdoors is” I always say. When we no longer have our fancy gyms and fitness studios, we can still get our blood pumping with a jog along a trail. When our restaurants are forced to close, a bit of To-Go food and a park create a lovely dining experience. And when our families are strained by tight quarters, with little ability to separate our personal and professional lives, a walk or bike ride around the block can bring us back together.
Nature is incredibly inclusive. Whether you are an extreme athlete, an amateur gardener, or anyone in between, the list of possible activities to enjoy outdoors is endless. The challenge for many is setting aside the time to truly enjoy them. We put pressure on ourselves to squeeze in a “workout” so the time feels productive. In doing so, getting outdoors becomes a chore. What if we simply built a habit of being outdoors for at least 15 minutes every day, doing something we loved? Keep in mind, not all outings need be well planned, gear packed, adventures. Enjoying a meal with loved ones in the backyard, or tossing a ball in a neighborhood park, is all it takes for the mind to unplug. You may even find yourself enjoying a bit of nostalgia from those pre-internet and pocket computer days. This habit would not only improve our mental and physical state, but present opportunity for real, genuine connection with those close to us.
Taking a break from routine to spend time outdoors brings out the best in us.
Walking our dogs through the neighborhood in recent weeks, my wife and I have noticed folks going out of their way to look up from their yard work to say “Hello”. What we have aptly dubbed “Drive-by Happy Hours” seem commonplace. Driveway chalk messages of positivity line sidewalks. And by golly, our neighbors lawn has never looked so good!
One of our favorite insights came from an unexpected place. As schools closed down and shelter-in-place ordinances rolled out, a Blipic team member noticed an increase in push notifications from the motion sensor on his Ring Door Bell. Capturing all the passers by, he calculated a 700% increase from pre-COVID norms. What truly put a smile on our faces was seeing who was setting off these notifications. It was not just individuals out for a run. He observed couples on mid-day walks. Parents taking time during the work week to teach their kids to ride bikes. And neighbors having conversations from one mailbox to the next. His once quiet neighborhood had come alive with people enjoying time outdoors, together… in a safe and socially distanced way, of course.
Despite the constant national and global news bombarding us with the economic impact of COVID-19 and how life will never be the same, on a local level, we are adapting. A spike in bicycle sales and limited online inventory of products such as yoga mats suggest we’re trying new ways to stay healthy. The Austin based Trail Foundation changed policy to make the famous Town Lake Trail loop one way, thus drastically decreasing the number of people passing each other. And a local outdoor gear company started National Camp At Home Day, which spread virally across social media simply because it put a smile on people’s faces. It is in our human nature to overcome challenges. To thrive during times of change. And to emerge stronger than before.
No, this is not a story about the science behind the benefits of Nature. This is a reminder of the opportunities nature makes available to everyone, and the positive impact it has on us as individuals and our communities. A simple nudge towards a more present lifestyle that takes advantage of what has surrounded us long before the pandemic began, and will remain with us long after the pandemic is overcome. So I encourage you, right now. Go outside. If you’re quarantined with another, take them with you. And simply tilt your head to the sky, close your eyes, and pause…