Social distancing in the time of coronavirus: Hug a tree, not each other

Happy Spring, Northern Hemisphere!

I have a feeling this is one we’ll never forget. On this vernal equinox, COVID-19 has most of us hunkered down in our houses — working remotely, social distancing and hopefully picking up some new eco-friendly habits.

This pandemic has undeniably reshaped life across the planet. Entire cities have shut down, businesses and restaurants are offering only takeout or closing entirely and sports seasons have come to an unexpected end.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands as often as possible, practicing social distancing and avoiding touching your face to prevent transmission of the virus. But this doesn’t mean we have to stay indoors 24/7 and stop all contact with the outside world.

As long as you’re avoiding close proximity with other people, there’s nothing wrong with being outside. If you can keep away from public transportation, bring your own (reusable) water bottle and stay at least six feet from your buddies — you are still safe.

So, let’s use this time of self-quarantine and social distancing to reconnect with the outdoors — I mean, what better way to avoid close contact with humans than literally distancing yourself from society? Go for a run, explore a new park or hit your favorite trail, whatever gets you out in the sun.

Plus, it’s just what the doctor orders.

Studies show that our bodies respond positively to being outside. Sitting in the fresh air — even just for a moment between Zoom calls with your coworkers — can reduce blood pressure, relieve stress and strengthen your immune system.

One study found that even the view of nature through a window can lower stress and increase job satisfaction, so don’t worry if you’re in a city and have limited access to green space. A budding tree or the sight of a bird’s nest can still help.

Just make sure to check your local restrictions before heading out and stick close to home, so you don’t bring the virus elsewhere. Small tourist towns near popular public lands, like National Parks, often have very small hospitals without the resources to protect locals from an outbreak. So if you have a bigger trip planned, consider changing your destination to take advantage of the nature right in your own city.

COVID-19 shows us a glimpse at our future if we don’t take action against wildlife trade — or even climate change. Rising temperatures make it increasingly difficult to eradicate deadly epidemics, and, as the winter seasons become shorter, flu seasons will grow longer.

This is the perfect time to encourage your loved ones to get outside, appreciate the Earth and fight for climate action. Spending time in nature may inspire them to adopt new eco-friendly habits and care about conservation. By voting green and adjusting our individual habits like we have for the pandemic, we can save the planet and ourselves.

So, trade Netflix for some fresh air and sunshine — the Earth and your body will thank you.

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