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Here’s a mental health tip to get you through coronavirus quarantine: Find tranquility in nature

This article features EarthLab Nature and Health leaders Kathleen Wolf and Peter Kahn.

Written by Corinne Whiting for  The Seattle Times.

During the coronavirus pandemic, getting out in nature can be beneficial for your mental health. Just make sure you’re still practicing social distancing while walking around in a park. Photographed at O.O. Denny Park in Kirkland, Nov. 18, 2019. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

At this bizarre moment in time, most are digging deep into internal “toolboxes” in an attempt to retain some semblance of zen. Maybe you’re experimenting with meditation and yoga, crafting and cleaning, or indulgent wining and dining, shared with a Brady Bunch-esque setup of telesocializing friends.

Yet there’s one thing two University of Washington scholars guarantee can bring relief: nature. And thankfully, Seattleites have abundant access to this healing resource. There’s more good news: Even if you can’t experience the budding trees and chirping birds in person, connecting through a window or computer screen brings welcomed benefits, too.

Kathleen Wolf, a research social scientist at UW’s College of the Environment, cites widely sourced evidence — spanning some 40 years — that emphasizes the importance of nearby nature experiences for both our physical and mental health, and “deep, compelling” research that proves these experiences to be restorative. Experimental studies show positive effects for people with clinical mental challenges, from adults with depression to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“We fully recognize that this is not a substitute for a diagnosis and treatment by a health care professional, yet it’s one opportunity for people to feel better,” Wolf said. “Everyday nature experiences are so good for mental wellness. Pursue them; be mindful.”

Peter H. Kahn Jr., a professor in the UW psychology department and the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, recommends getting your heart rate up through daily movement — outside in nature, if possible. Even urban dwellers can practice social distancing on neighborhood sidewalks and in green areas. “This is the very time for people to get out on walks, no matter your level of ability,” Kahn said. He believes this practice connects us to our ancestral paths, and an age-old pattern of leaving and homecoming that dates back to hunter-gatherer days.

“The going out and the return is powerful,” he says.

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