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Outdoors/Adventure

Get outdoors to escape the stress of coronavirus

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: March 14
  • Published March 14

Snow falls near Westchester Lagoon as a runner passes on the Chester Creek Trail on November 16, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN)

I am an overthinker. A fixator, a muller, a “turn the thought over and over in my head to try to make some sense of it” dweller. I blame my East Coast heritage for passing on the worry-wart gene.

I’ve been walking an interesting line during the coronavirus panic.

I crave information. I refresh the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website daily; I read headlines and dive in for updates. I consider myself well-informed — or at least informed enough to grasp the magnitude of the coronavirus severity worldwide.

I also notice myself re-reading content. The news is terrifying, and on the flip-side thrilling — it must be lighting up parts of my brain that crave stimulation and excitement. I reach for my phone and beeline straight for the news that I already looked at 30 minutes ago.

This isn’t healthy. I know that. It’s important to stay informed and to make decisions around that information, but fixating spirals me into stress. I know that fear actually flicks my brain off, into primal fight, flight and freeze mode. I also know that stress weakens my immunity. So ultimately, the hyper-focus on the news blips every time they appear does nothing for me.

Here is the thing though: I am alarmed at how slow we in the United States are to effectively get the memo and enact changes to stall the progression of coronavirus. I see this in my day-to-day life — from seeing a person visibly ill and coughing in public, to the throngs of people heading to the grocery store. People I know and love are being lackadaisical about upcoming travel. And people who know and love me are rebuking me for my own blind spots — Asthmatic Alli, they tell me, should not be hosting cocktail night this week.

I subscribe to the school of what they’re calling social distancing; meaning, taking whatever measures we can to individually and therefore collectively slow the spread of the virus by staying away from one another.

Social distancing is more feasible for some people than others; this whole outbreak shines a spotlight on inequities we already know exist but come into even sharper relief.

For me personally, it comes as no surprise that I’m taking the coronavirus scare to both appreciate and embrace the wide-open access I have to everything I love to do outside. Again, I say this with an understanding that for many people, that must be nice — having the ability, the leeway, the freedom to head into the outdoors. I know that.

And I will emphasize this for Alaskans: these coming weeks are good not only to stay home, to turn down the party or conference invite, to stay home from that trip — I canceled a long-planned trip to Reno for spring break with my stepdaughter. Take your dogs for a walk. Take the kids sledding or skiing. Hit the ice with your skates and bring a thermos of hot chocolate. Take advantage of the longer days to go for the walk or hike you’ve wanted to try.

We were going to host a St. Patty’s Day dinner at our house. Instead, we’re hosting a ski night. We’ll meet friends at the trailhead, hit the trails and eat our Irish soda bread and drink a beer around the tailgate afterwards. Six feet apart, they say, and hopefully none of us are sick. But with some of us having underlying conditions or being in contact with people who do (that we know and don’t), I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say our collective actions could save lives.

If it ends up being an overreaction, I’ll be happy to be made fun of later. I’m certainly getting texts both from friends more alarmed than I am and also those telling me to stop sharing information about the coronavirus because I’m being alarmist.

Again, it’s an interesting moment where I have to figure out where I stand based on the information I have — and that hopefully I’m not overloading on — and then be OK hanging out there where I want to be.

And where I want to be is healthy and able to do the things I love to do.

The outdoors is coronavirus-free, good for my immune system, great for my mental health and a good activity to do with friends as long as we’re not breathing on each other or traveling together in the same vehicle.

I am far from being a Pollyanna optimist about this whole situation. It’s real, and I think it matters more than we realize yet here in Alaska, and I don’t think it’s nearly over yet.

But in the meantime what gets me through is my ability to access and stay connected to a bigger picture. And we have an amazing bigger picture in Alaska, visible and accessible from any one of our homes. I encourage each of us to do what we can in the coming weeks to stay healthy by accessing outdoors in whatever way we can.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

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