Mike Godfrey, A Home in Wild Spaces

2020 got you stressed? Take a heavy dose of nature

By Mike Godfrey, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Nov. 3, 2020 at 12:15 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — So, 2020 has been rough.

There's really no debating it. With political vitriol at a fever pitch, a pandemic, racial tensions and protests — not to mention the economic whiplash and uncertainty so many have experienced this year — 2020 hasn't exactly been a walk in the park.

And we're all feeling it. A recent study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found stress, anxiety, depression are all on the rise.

Our collective plate is currently overflowing; and it does not appear poised to change anytime soon. So, how do we remain engaged while also managing our emotions and anxieties? There's no one answer. But if life is anything but a walk in the park, a literal or virtual walk in the park is likely to do you a world of good.

The healing power of the natural world has long been shown to have remarkable effects on mental, emotional and physical health. Hospitals have been using both gardens and nature photographs to facilitate healing for decades, with a growing body of evidence demonstrating the power of nature to facilitate healing. According to Scientific American, studies have found patients with bedside windows that grant a view of natural features report less pain, require less medication, and recover faster than they would otherwise.

The positive effects of nature on emotional health are similarly striking. A study in 2015 found that people who took a 90-minute walk in a natural setting experienced less activity in the stress and rumination sections of their brains compared with people who took a similar walk in an urban setting. Calming natural sounds, or even natural silence have also been linked to lower blood pressure and the reduction of stress hormones cortisol.

But what if you can't visit your favorite nature spot because of physical limitations, changing seasons, or COVID-19-related precautions? Don't despair. The healing power of nature is only a few clicks or swipes away in our modern age. Even if you can't enjoy nature in person, the sights and sounds of nature are as accessible as ever. Listening to natural soundscapes and viewing pictures or videos of natural scenery can treat anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a 2017 study.

A single excursion or relaxing nature video can be rejuvenating. Twenty to 30 minutes of nature three times a week, or as a regular part of your weekly schedule may open the door to many longterm emotional, mental and physical benefits, said Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance, in a 2018 article for the Harvard Medical School.

Consider beginning with this video, which captures the beauty of Yellowstone in autumn. Enjoy the soft ripples of Firehole and Madison rivers, the rumbling echo of the Yellowstone River plunging over 300 feet into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Listen to the birds sing their healing songs or the haunting bugles of Yellowstone's elk reverberating off vast forests of lodgepole pines.

There is no more complete natural soundscape or landscape in the contiguous United States than Yellowstone National Park, making it an ideal place to seek some relief from the stresses of 2020. Yellowstone is, however, far from the only place to seek relief. Healing natural beauty to be found all around us — from public parks to back yard gardens and even on YouTube. Find a place and activity that inspires and calms you. Doing so can help give you the peace and clarity to persevere in these challenging times.

Nature shouldn't replace other important resources. If you or someone you know is struggling with severe anxiety or depression do not hesitate to contact support personnel.

Finally, make sure to tread lightly and treat our natural resources with care. Nature serves us best when we respect and preserve it. We care for each other by caring for our environment and ensuring everyone can benefit from nature's unspoiled gifts.


Mike Godfrey

About the Author: Mike Godfrey

Mike Godfrey is a graduate of BYU and along with his wife Michelle, the manager of At Home in Wild Spaces, an outdoor recreation website, blog and community, dedicated to sharing national parks, wilderness areas, hiking/biking trails, and more.

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