This virus and failing economy are scary.
But I fear something else, too: We're too connected right now.
Much of the country is in various forms of shelter in place, and many Americans are waking up to find themselves confined to remote work or, sadly, out of work altogether. In turn, we’re spending more time online. According to some reports, it’s 20% more for social platforms. I believe those reports are likely low, as our social media app, GoWild, has seen a 25% lift in time on the app.
Technology can make these hard times more tolerable, with the ability to video call our family and friends, host virtual happy hours and help our neighbors. There have been numerous examples of using social media for good in this time of crisis. But we’ve also seen a shameful increase in toxicity, arguments, social shaming, and hysteria (if you can explain why hoarding toilet paper isn’t the definition of being hysterical, please let me know). While an uptick in social media-related anxiety hasn’t really been quantified yet, it’s well established that social networks can fan anxiety’s flame.
We don’t need access to the 24 hour news cycle right now (or really, ever). If you’re following the CDC’s guidelines to keep you and your family safe, let’s call that enough for the next few hours. The news, like some social media behavior, is contributing to stress, which is not only hurting your mental health, it’s compromising your immune system and overall physical wellbeing. All of this anxiety is making more hostile homes, as domestic violence calls are surging nationwide amid the COVID-19 crisis. Overall, our nation’s anxiety is getting worse with modern tools and times, not better.
In addition to Social Distancing, we need to focus on “Social Media Distancing.” Actually, let’s add “Media Distancing” to that list.
I was talking with my friend, Dr. Brooks Tiller, a health conscious hunter in Tennessee, and he told me of the Japanese practice of “Shinrin-yoku,” or quite literally translated to “forest bathing.” It’s simply getting outside into nature. Even pre-COVID-19 pandemic, the practice had gained a lot of traction in this modern era. Japanese recognize that stepping away from emails, conference calls, ongoing notifications and just life’s stress in general can have incredible benefits.
And it’s quantifiable.
A study in 2010 found time spent outdoors promotes lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity. And most importantly, another study found significantly decreased levels of hostility and depression among subjects who spent a regular amount of time in forests.
I will say it again, but differently to help communicate the significance here:
Getting outside makes you physically healthier, mentally happier and less hostile.
I find myself sitting helplessly as my wife, a nurse in a pediatric ICU, monitors the local and national news to assess the latest reports of COVID-19 to see what’s coming her way. There’s nothing I can do to make her feel or be safe. Our nation’s healthcare workers will likely do some of the most challenging work of their career in coming weeks. The news is a nonstop feed of the latest discrepancies over how our politicians are handling (or not handling) this pandemic. I can’t help them either, and wouldn’t know where to start anyways.
I’m not a doctor, economist, or politician. I have absolutely no expertise in any of those areas, but from the outside looking in, it kind of feels like we’re in a downward spiral without any view of a safe place to land.
But I am a lifelong outdoorsman, and I know one thing to be true:
I know to be true from the studies I have read and my own personal journey. The outdoors makes me whole. And at a time when many Americans have been mandated to stop working, told to shelter in place, and are only allowed to leave for a short list of activities (with exercise being one), it’s critical we find time to Social Media Distance and get outside so we can maintain mental fortitude.
I’m challenging everyone—seriously, all of you—to find 7 hours outside every week. Most of the directives from our governments that I have seen still allow us to visit parks, hike trails, take walks and explore nature, as long as we practice healthy social distancing (6’ apart or more, don’t use public restrooms or touch common surfaces, etc.—see safety guidelines here). Even getting outside to do some yardwork is going to help your mental health right now. Remember: Spring will come, regardless.
Let’s all come together to ensure 2020 isn’t the year we let ourselves go. This is a time to come together, and the best way to do that is to take care of ourselves first. The news, social updates and latest memes will all be there when you get back. What we can’t get back is the time we’re losing to our phones. Use this time for good. Use it outside.
Aldo Leopold wrote, “Education, I fear, is learning to see one thing by going blind to another.” Let’s ensure we don’t let this time of darkness cause us to forget and fail to see the beauty all around us.
There can be good to come of the bad. And there is upside to this downside. It’s waiting for you to find it.
About the Author
Brad Luttrell is the Cofounder, CEO, of GoWild, the rapidly growing social media and ecommerce platform for hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. His startup went from a basement-built side hustle to a platform that’s used daily across the world. Brad's company works with organizations like Polaris Adventures, Garmin, Vortex, NWTF and more. Brad is an award-winning photographer, writer, and digital marketing strategist with a decade of experience in creative and advertising. He loves to hike, off road, and hunt. He also really loves fishing but kind of sucks at it.
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