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A Spoonful of Nature Helps the Pandemic Go Down

Pandemic fatigue + SAD = gloomy people.

As we all know too well, we are in our seventh month of what we initially thought was a two-week lockdown. All things told, we are not doing such a good job. Some are calling this “pandemic fatigue.” Recently, the World Health Organization declared “despite general public support for pandemic response strategies, Member States are reporting increasing levels of pandemic fatigue among their citizens.” This condition refers to the feelings many are experiencing with the constant state of vigilance (and/or having arguments with those no longer being vigilant or denying the need to be vigilant). Symptoms of pandemic fatigue include feeling overwhelmed and exhausted with bouts of apathy, weariness, distraction, and social withdrawal (this particular symptom being both a cause and a result of the pandemic).

For many, the changing season may add to pandemic fatigue. As the weather changes, so might our ability to go to a restaurant for an outdoor meal, see our friends for a picnic, visit with family in our backyards, bring our children to parks and play-areas. People who are already feeling the long drag of social isolation, missing friends and families, the loss of travel, missing plays and concerts and movies, among many other things, may look at the upcoming winter with dread.

As I write, the skies here are gray and it seems like it’s been raining for days. I can feel myself getting blue (even my dog is hiding under the couch). The changing of the season and shorter days with less sunlight can also bring seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to the American Family Physician (2000), SAD affects about 4 to 6% of the population, and 10 to 20% of all people will have some mild winter depression. SAD is four times more likely to occur in women than men. Combine SAD with pandemic fatigue and we might have a great deal of gloomy friends, family, neighbors, and clients this winter.

Some simple suggestions and thoughts about moving into the next season. One thing the pandemic has forced many people to do is slow down. Winter brings a slower pace and if we look to our animal friends, we see that reflected in their behavior. Squirrels, skunks, chipmunks and bears collect food and then curl up in a cozy den to rest or hibernate. The human body needs the restoration that winter brings. Embrace the chance to cozy up with family, enjoy the fireplace and warm cups of tea. Release the need for relentless productivity. Take the time to restore your body and mind.

Megan Delaney
Hug a tree this winter.
Source: Megan Delaney

At the same time, we could use a healthy dose of vitamin D during the winter. For many, nature has been a sanctuary for surviving this pandemic. Its resources are still there to share even during winter months. Invest in a good jacket, treat yourself to a nice hat, gloves and boots. Bundle yourself in layers, bring lots of water and explore the outdoors. In as little as 5 to 10 minutes, nature brings its gifts to you in the form of improved mood and decreased stress (Bratman, Hamilton, Hahn, Daily, & Gross, 2015). Walking in natural places can bring a new appreciation of the beauty of the winter landscape. Without throngs of people, winter walks in nature can be meditative and peaceful, a time for quiet reflection. Views are unobstructed and birds and animals are seen in open meadows, leafless branches or freshly fallen snow. Nature also demonstrates its incredible ability to cope in harsh climates, promising that come spring, it will flower and sprout back into life. Frankly, this metaphor is very applicable to our seemingly never-ending pandemic.

Take your hike and come home to enjoy that hot cup of tea!

Hang in there and hope to see you out there.

P.S. Many have suffered greatly during this pandemic. If you can spare coats, hats, gloves, boots, consider donating to a local shelter or clothing drive. Food pantries and soup kitchens are in desperate need of donations, as millions of Americans are food insecure or going hungry. Consider donating to Feed America or use their website to find a local food bank. Helping others and the natural world can also boost our mood.

References

Bratman, G. N., Hamilton, J. P., Hahn, K. S., Daily, G. C., & Gross, J. J. (2015). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112, 8567–8572. doi:10.1073/pnas.1510459112

Seasonal Affective Disorder (2000 Mar 1); Am Fam Physician, 61(5):1531-1532.

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