Logan Graves

“Outside” is not only a physical place — but a place to rejuvenate your mental health and ponder your next moves!

Everyone’s felt some pandemic-induced exhaustion at some point this year. Moving school to home has brought plenty of challenges: zoom fatigue, blurred work-life balance, lack of physical activity, and social isolation, not to mention the other difficulties so many have had to face with the lockdowns. Our interactions with each other are more taxing and less rewarding when we’re online; when you pair that with the constant stress of schoolwork, the news cycle, and uncertainty about the future, you get a combination of loneliness, anxiety, and exhaustion that mix too well together. Liam Goodfellow ‘24, put it succinctly, “All the days just turn into one never ending day.” I think that about sums up 2020.

Now, I’ve never been someone that’s very oriented towards the outdoors. I enjoy my family’s trips to national parks, and I’ve gone backpacking a few times, but by no means am I the type of person you’d find tending to a green space somewhere in the city. Over the past few months, however, I’ve come to realize that time in the outdoors is a necessary part of my survival. Remember Outside, that place beyond your beyond your bedroom window that you used to frequent so long ago?

It may not get many good reviews, or many reviews at all, but I promise you that if you visit you won’t be disappointed. Since September, I’ve made exploring my neighborhood a habit when I’m feeling like I can’t do any more work. I typically just throw on a jacket, slide my phone and a pair of earbuds into my pocket (in case I get bored of listening to myself think), and walk out the door. Last week, I discovered a huge chunk of land that I’d embarrassingly never seen, about a five-minute walk south of my house. When I got home, I finished a final project that I’d been too tired to do before. Something about the fresh air and the change in scenery jumpstarts my brain, even when my metaphorical car battery is entirely dead. 

The positive effects of visiting this wonderful travel destinationOutsidedon’t end there. Most of my side projects, writing subjects, and good ideas have emerged while walking outside. Even if I’m not using them, I keep my headphones plugged in so that I can use voice commands to make a new note for later review. Once I manage to force myself to stop thinking about the schoolwork waiting for me at home (no matter how much I get done, there always seems to be more), it becomes something of a meditative experience, at least until I’m snapped out of it by the sight of another lone pedestrian and a sudden need to pull out the mask in my right pocket. 

This phenomenon of heightened mental ability is not just anecdotal. A study published by the American Psychological Association in 2014 documents it: “Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.” The study additionally notes that walking outside has a more profound impact on creative thinking than indoor walks. Additionally, a study from the Association for Psychological Science shows that walking in nature, being around nature, and even simply seeing pictures of natural environments improves short-term memory significantly, with participants seeing a 20% improvement on a memory test after taking a walk in a botanical garden. Though most of the benefits I’m writing about here come with any type of outdoor activity, taking a walk through nature adds icing on top of the benefit-cake.

To be clear, ‘Outside’ literally means anywhere outside of the house, be that an urban street filled with parked cars or a remote dirt road near your grandparents’ house.”

Multiple sources, from Oprah, to Business Insider, to even the CDC have documented the other benefits that come from visiting Outside. In an article from April 9 of last year, Forbes contributor Cassidy Randall wrote of a number of improved health benefits being linked to time spent outside, indicating that “these positive effects are so well-documented that more and more doctors are issuing ‘nature prescriptions’ to help treat a range of conditions from heart disease, […] and diabetes, to chronic stress, depression and anxiety…” Randall also writes, “For children, time spent outside under the taxing circumstances of a pandemic—stress from being home from school, uncertain conditions and isolation from friends—could have lasting positive effects.” Your health (both psychological and physical) can improve simply from your presence at this travel spot. What’s not to love?

To be clear, ‘Outside’ literally means anywhere outside of the house, be that an urban street filled with parked cars or a remote dirt road near your grandparents’ house. Not everyone has a park within walking distance (in the U.S., 100 million people don’t have one  within 10 minutes of their house), nor do they need to cruising one’s neighborhood is the perfect escape from daily monotony.

If you’re going to travel, Outside is the perfect vacation destination for the coronavirus pandemic. Transportation costs are nonexistent and the time to get there is extremely short, no matter where in the world you are. There are infinite tourist destinations for the budding sightseer, and your journey there includes free improvements to your mental health!