The first week of the St. Louis stay at home order, I stayed indoors for three straight days. I didn’t plan it; I just got caught up in dealing with work stuff, cleaning out closets, reading The Glass Hotel, and video chatting with everyone I could think of. When it finally hit me that it had been way too long since I’d seen the sun, I grabbed my book and headed for the patio, because just like we should resist the temptation to alter our sleep schedules, we also need to fight past the urge to sit inside all the time. Let’s break it down.
Why it’s tempting
Inertia is a powerful force, especially when it’s couch induced inertia. On top of that, the guidelines for social distancing can easily be read as “stay indoors at all times to prevent catching or spreading COVID-19,” especially in the early days when it wasn’t clear exactly what was, and was not, a threat. With everything going on in your home, it’s easy to forget how long it’s been since you were last outside, and the overwhelming fear of exposure adds an edge to the impulse to stay hidden from the world completely.
Why it’s bad
The point of social distancing is not to avoid the outdoors. It’s to avoid getting too close to other people. Unless you live in an extremely high density environment, there’s nothing wrong with taking a walk, so long as you keep a safe distance from other people walking. It’s also perfectly acceptable to sit on your balcony or porch for a while. For one thing, avoiding the sun means avoiding Vitamin D, which is necessary for being healthy. There’s even evidence that it helps protect us against respiratory infections like the Coronavirus. Given that, even before the lockdown, as many as 42% of Americans had a vitamin D deficiency, it’s even more important to get sunlight and your dose of Vitamin D.
And don’t forget the other benefits of sunlight. Mental health is as important as physical health, and in the age of lockdowns it’s becoming much harder to maintain proper mental hygiene. You know what’s really good for your mental health? The giant star that keeps our entire planet alive. If you stay indoors 24-7, you’re missing out on the mental health benefits that come from as little as 5-10 minutes of sunlight exposure. Daily sunlight will help you keep yourself in the right frame of mine, and help you cope with the stress of the current situation.
How to avoid it
Set aside twenty minutes a day to be outside. During the day. Plan ahead, like you would plan a trip to the grocery store or any other essential trip. Avoid places that will attract crowds. If you have somewhere that you can be outside and have complete privacy, like a lawn or a balcony, that would be your safest bet. If you don’t, pick places and times that won’t be high traffic. If you’re working from home, you might be best served going outside on your lunch break, for example. Again, only 5-15 minutes in the sun reaps rewards, so you don’t need to make this into a huge excursion. If, on the other hand, your living conditions don’t allow for you to go safely go outside with minimal crowds, take advantage of windows. When the sun’s shining, open a window, let in some fresh, and bask in the sunlight.
If your city or state allows you to go for a drive, that will let you stay safe and allow you to stay socially distant. With the windows down, sun streaming in, and your favorite music or audiobook playing, a drive can you help you de-stress in multiple ways. You still get sunlight, and being in the car means you’ll easily have six feet of distance.
Are you getting your outdoor time?