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Nature can boost your mental health during COVID-19 pandemic

Date: Apr 20 2020

Contact: APHA Media Relations or call Joe Cantlupe at 202-603-7703

APHA's president shares tips for connecting to the outdoors during widespread isolation

Washington, D.C., April  20, 2020 – Staying at home and keeping away from crowds is important for protecting people from COVID-19. Yet such practices also upset daily routines, push people into isolation and add to their stress.

Lisa M. Carlson, MPH, MCHES, president of the American Public Health Association, says people can — and should — find refuge in something that is all around them: nature. 

“Our natural spaces are sacred spaces,” Carlson says. “Getting outside to breathe fresh air, see the sun rise, feel the breeze — these can be centering experiences that are vital to our mental wellness,” says Carlson. “It’s good medicine, and time with nature doesn’t require a prescription.”

A recent study found people are significantly more likely to report good health and well-being if they spend 120 minutes a week in nature, Carlson notes. However, people spend more than 90% of their time indoors — and that was before the widespread isolation caused by COVID-19, Carlson says.

“People need to stay connected to each other and to nature. These troubled times in particular are key times to embrace nature — while practicing physical distancing,” she adds.

Calls to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services’ crisis hotline increased 891% in March, according to media reports. And recent Gallup polls found that 3 out of 4 Americans are worried about COVID-19 exposure.

Experiencing the natural world can provide relief from the stress and anxiety of the COVID-19 outbreak, Carlson stresses.

“Clearly, many people are in crisis,” she says. “Everyone is having to isolate at home, which is challenging to our mental wellness.”

Getting out into nature does not mean having to go far. People can take refuge in walking in their neighborhoods while practicing safe distancing from their neighbors. Noticing flowers, plants and trees is a terrific balm for anxieties, Carlson says.

“Trees are part of the public health team, and they can improve both our physical and mental health, which is even more critical during this crisis,” Carlson says.

Tips for getting most out of nature during COVID-19:

  • Moving throughout the day is an important part of taking care of yourself, and that could include a walk, hike or run in a neighborhood, or a park or trail.
  • Enjoying nature can be achieved as simply as going out in a backyard and talking to neighbors from a distance. Or you can do a bit more by planting a tree or flowers.
  • You can create structure for your day by engaging in nature as part of a morning or evening ritual — or both.
  • Nature can help you disconnect, wind down and take a break from the news.
  • If you’re sheltering in place in an urban area and cannot easily access natural spaces, seek out nature videos and recordings of natural sounds.
  • Take a virtual tour of a National Park.

“I walk outside every morning and see the sunrise every day,” Carlson adds. “It’s my mental centering. It’s grounding. Time in nature is always sacred for me. We can’t function as a people without being replenished by nature. I know I can’t.”

Lisa Carlson has been APHA president since November 2019. She is executive administrator of research programs and operations at the Emory School of Medicine and also affiliate instructor at the Emory Rollins School of Public Health. She has spent more than 25 years working in public health and medicine.

To speak to Lisa Carlson, email APHA media relations or call Joe Cantlupe at 202-603-7703.


The American Public Health Association champions the health of all people and all communities. We are the only organization that combines a nearly 150-year perspective, a broad-based member community and the ability to influence federal policy to improve the public’s health. Learn more at www.apha.org.