As we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions on socializing that it requires, we want to make sure that we take steps to preserve our mental well-being as much as we work to maintain our physical health. As those of us who live with animals already know, one of the best ways we can stay both mentally and physically healthy is to get outside and connect with nature. And this is not only good for us, it is good for the Earth. If there is a silver lining to all of the challenges brought about by this pandemic, it is that more people – not just animal lovers – are looking for ways reconnect with the Earth. We have compiled some tips on the best ways to rediscover or enhance your relationship with the Earth and your animals while keeping yourself and your loved ones safe from the virus.
Take a Hike
Social distancing does not mean distancing yourself from nature, so feel free to head out for a hike. Blaze your own trail through the woods if you’re a seasoned hiker or follow an established trail if you are not or you just want a quicker, easier hiking experience. If you don’t already have a favorite hiking trail or are just looking for a change of scenery, search the web to get details on local hiking routes and see which trails are good to bring dogs to as well as which trails match your ability level. We like to visit the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Trail Link at www.traillink.com before heading out to find the best places to hike. Check in with local town websites before you go to ensure that the trail you choose is still open during the pandemic. If it is, check the parking situation when you arrive. Lots of cars probably means that the trail is a bit too crowded for appropriate social distancing, so you’ll want to try again later. Once out on the trail, be sure to maintain a distance of at least six feet between you and any other hikers you see and between your animal and theirs as well.
Explore Your Neighbor’s Gardens
Take a walk around your neighborhood and marvel at all the plants that are starting to bloom this Spring. Instead of just rushing by, though, take a slow stroll and really look all the beautiful and amazing nature right in your neighborhood. If you aren’t sure what you are looking at, try using Seek or MyNature Tree Guide. These apps let you enter information or upload photos of plants and then helps you identify and learn more about them. Bring your dog along who, we are sure, will love the slower pace and the opportunity to sniff out his own new discoveries. If you live in a city with limited plantings, head to a local park or community garden instead. Check first to make sure that they are open to visitors during the pandemic and that it is OK to bring your dog. And, of course, make sure to stand back at least six feet from any other people you may encounter on your journey.
Play Games in Your Yard
When you just can’t travel very far, you can find fun in your own backyard. Make up games that will entertain both of you while also giving you both some exercise and mental stimulation. Create a scavenger hunt for your animal by hiding treats or toys and encouraging her to search them out. Build an obstacle course out of natural materials, like sticks, branches, and rocks, and teach your animal how to navigate it. Play a game of fetch with a stick. Or, just lay back on the grass and relax while breathing in all those immune-boosting phytochemicals we get from plants.
Ponder Your Relationship with the Earth
If you can’t go outside, studies have shown that looking out a window at nature or viewing pictures of nature can also have some health benefits, including lowering stress responses (nytimes.com). Petting an animal has similar effects, so curling up with your animal and watching a nature screen saver on the TV would make for quite a cozy stress-reducing afternoon. And while you are hanging out admiring pictures of our beautiful planet, why not contemplate some ways that you can incorporate nature into your life on a regular basis once this pandemic is over? How can you spend more time in nature and how can you live a more sustainable lifestyle? Let’s put our time social distancing to good use not only keeping ourselves healthy, but also keeping our planet healthy.
Medical and mental health experts agree that being outside is good for you. Vitamin D from the sun is a natural immunity booster and being out in nature lowers blood pressure and stress hormone levels. Every little bit of time you can spend outside, or inside looking at the outside, is good for you. Let’s take advantage of our socially distant days to reconnect with nature and make our Earth healthier for the days when we can be together again.