As a rehabilitation psychologist I often work with people who are dealing with changes in abilities after an injury, medical condition, or other life event that is keeping them from doing some of the things they love. In many cases, I help people find new or modified ways to get outside and to connect to their personal values through activity and movement. Now at the time of putting this together there is a global pandemic with COVID-19 that is having the same effect for nearly everyone. Given various stay-at-home and social distancing measures many of us can’t engage with the outside world in the same way as before. Some of us may be sick or needing to reduce physical contact with others to either reduce risk for ourselves or to help reduce the risk for our local, regional, national, and global communities. For us that love the outdoors, our abilities to connect with those spaces have been greatly reduced. A lot of areas are closed, and for understandable reasons. In Washington State even the National Forests are closed to all use. We are all doing our part to slow the growth of COVID-19 as we make sacrifices. I’m not able to go for a hike, go splitboarding on the spring corn snow, climb at local crags, or go fly fishing in Washington rivers. I’m sure you too are limited in what you are able to do.
These limitations bring various challenges. Many of us also cope with the stresses and struggles of daily life by engaging in outdoor activities. There’s a 1-2 punch with all of this – we are limited in connecting with the outdoors – one of our main coping strategies, AND there are increased stressors with COVID-19. So, how do we cope with the current stressors of life when we likely do not have as much access to some of our main coping strategies?
Be it climbing, skiing, trail running, hiking, mountain biking; you can’t do it right now. Or, you can’t do it in the same and familiar way. We all take part in outdoor activities and sports for different reasons. Whatever your reasons might be, there is a good chance that right now there is a gap between what you’re wanting or needing and with what you can do.
Luckily, there are still ways to find healthy and meaningful temporary substitutions. That is one of the blessings. For this situation, most of us will be able to get back out there eventually. This pandemic will pass. And while there are likely to be some long-term challenges, the outdoors will reopen. So here is our goal – find ways that we can tap into our outdoor activity-related values even though we right now can’t do the specific activity from pre-COVID-19. If we can do this, it will boost our abilities to weather the storm by bringing back some of the stress-managing powers associated with those activities we love to do. When we are meaningfully engaged with our personal values we enhance our wellbeing and quality of life.
So first, you need to understand what you are missing. Sure, you are missing the specific activity and/or sport. But, what does that certain activity give you? Why is it so important to you?
Some might say they do things in the outdoors to:
  • Challenge themselves

  • Exercise

  • Have a project or something to work for

  • Compete and/or focus on performance 

  • Increase a sense of accomplishment

  • Have adventure

  • Explore and see new things or place

  • Spend time alone

  • Spend time with close friends/loved ones

  • Process emotions, express emotions, or give time to think

  • Meet new people

  • Be in nature

  • Disconnect from modern life/cities/technology and enhance a sense of simplicity

These are some examples of values that might be connected with the activity you love. Values are these big and meaningful areas of importance. They are different from goals, as goals are the things we specifically accomplish. Values are our guiding principles. For example, I value seeing new places and because of that value I set goals such as hiking new trails or climbing new routes.
As you run through that list, there might be a few values that stand out. Seeing this, it makes sense why you miss climbing, running, skiing, etc, right now. These activities nurture you by way of connecting you to some of your personal values. I would guess that right now most of us are missing our connections to the values that the outdoors provide.
Once you identify the missing need – seeing what values are connected to your outdoor pursuits – you can start looking for ways to enhance your connection with that value with the resources you do have available to you right now. Explore to see if we can find some ways to modify how we can do things and/or find a substitute. The beautiful thing is, there is no indication that these changes right now related to COVID-19 are totally permanent. I often help people find ways to navigate experiences of loss and grief. That’s what you might be feeling right now. Sometimes those losses are temporary. Sometimes they’re more permanent. Remind yourself that losses related to COVID-19, for the most part, are going to be temporary.
While you can’t go out and do the specific thing you love, take a deep breath, and find a way to engage with your value.

Let’s run though an example:

Missed Activity: Bouldering
Activity Values: Someone might love bouldering because it gives them a project to work on as well as time to connect with friends.
Engage with the Values Now: Is there anything you could be projecting or working on near your home right now? Maybe it is related to climbing, or maybe it is a different kind of project. Potential bonus points if you can find a way to do that with friends (while remaining physically distant). Maybe there is a way to connect with bouldering friends now – phone, computer, etc. It isn’t everything, but it is certainly more than nothing.

Here’s another:

Missed Activity: Skiing
Activity Values: Someone might love skiing because it gives them time in nature, it gives objectives to focus on, and/or time spent with active decision making and planning.
Engage with the Values Now: Maybe you cannot find a way to find a substitute that fulfills all values. Take on a few at a time. Time in nature – Can you walk to a local park and find a space to soak in some green time? Objectives focus – Can you take on mini-hikes in your area to explore neighborhoods. Decision Making/Planning – Can you plan some ski routes for next year and anticipate what the decision making points may be for those routes?

The other day I was missing something to do that was not connected to a computer or electronic device. I need a project. I decided to clean the exterior windows, and as I did that I talked with a good friend on the phone for over an hour (OK, so still an electronic device was involved. . . ). I realized that when I’m hiking, or skiing, or climbing, I get time away from my computer. I’m engaged with a specific project or activity. It keeps me focused. And, I also get “trail talk” – uninterrupted time to chat with people I love. While cleaning the windows is far from a mountain hiking trail, it did provide some connections to some of my values.
I hope for all of us that we can find meaningful ways to connect with our values as we get through this challenging time. We will get back out there. For now, let’s all make sure we are doing our best to take care of ourselves and each other.
If you would like to learn more about Pacific Rehabilitation Centers, please read more about us or contact us.

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