Hidden Gems of the Great Outdoors Office of Sustainability

Finding Peace in Nature During a Pandemic

"When the future is full of uncertainty and dread, where can you find peace and comfort except in the present moment?" – Rev. Tim Auman

Returning to campus this semester has made students breathe a sigh of relief but also wonder what to do to keep busy during a pandemic. With state and school imposed health and safety guidelines, attending classes, meeting with clubs and socializing with friends look different. Regardless of the situation, one thing is certain: people are spending much more time in the great outdoors.

Students have found themselves facing stressors and anxieties due to the Covid-19 pandemic and isolation. For some, it has taken a toll on mental health. To cope, students are adjusting in ways that have allowed them to foster deeper relationships with nature. Whether students are reading a book on Davis Field or exploring Reynolda Gardens, they are finding themselves more connected to nature.

Today's Autumnal Equinox marks a fresh start. Equinox comes from the Latin words “aequi,” which means equal, and “nox,” which translates to night. On the equinox, day and night are of nearly the same length across the planet. This seasonal transition brings with it a sense of balance and opportunity to find peace in the present moment.

"I decided to bring my dog, Maverick, with me to school this year. he loves to play fetch in Davis Field! He also really loves watching all the squirrels run around." – Maggie Burns, senior

photo by Laura Acosta

Reflecting on the initial shock of quarantine, Burns admits that she dwelled on all of the things she felt like she was missing out on, whether it was being with her friends or on Wake's campus in general. Over time, she feels she was able to gain perspective and focus on the things that mattered most in that moment. "I’m healthy, my family is healthy and I live in a beautiful place where social distancing outside is easy," she reminds herself. Going on hikes, walks and runs helped clear her mind, which she is doing even more with her pup.

"My friends and I walk Through Reynolda Gardens to take a break from sitting in front of our screens. We walk by the waterfall, look for turtles or pick up food and find a place outside to eat." – Channing Thomas, senior

photo by Daniel Watts

Being cooped up during quarantine, Thomas has found a deeper connection with the natural world around her. "I have a greater appreciation for the trees that shield me from the rain, the sun that keeps me warm despite the drop in temperature, and even the insects that I never paid mind to before," she says.

She says the Environmental Leadership class has helped instill in her the importance of practicing mindfulness. "I try to remain in the present and focus on what I'm doing at that moment," she says. "It has allowed me to be more optimistic and more grateful for things I took for granted."

"I make it a goal to get outside for a good portion every day – going on walks, runs, picnics or sitting in my backyard for zoom meetings. I am much more appreciative of the outdoor space by my house." – Annabel Clark, senior

photo by Carolina Conway

Clark admits that sometimes she gets "stressed because [she] feels stuck inside and doesn't have the freedom [she] typically does to go wherever [she] wants." Spending time outdoors helps her stay grounded. "I always get a sense of gratitude when I walk outside, which helps me manage stress and understand that some of my stresses are trivial," Clark says.

"Coming to campus garden allows me to connect with the natural world and destress. The action of running my fingers through the dirt allows me to clear my mind and reflect." – Sarah MAcArthur, senior

The Campus Garden is a truly unique oasis on Wake's campus. Weekdays this semester, the Campus Garden is offering Connect and Cultivate Hours as a new opportunity for students to recharge and reconnect in a safe, outdoor environment. The garden allows an escape from Zoom classes to get outside and enjoy nature. MacArthur says going to the garden allows her to appreciate the outdoors as well as socialize with friends in a safe environment.

Plus, getting your hands dirty is scientifically proven to help relieve stress and anxiety by boosting your mood and overall life satisfaction. Working your hands into the soil and sifting through it allows microbes to be released – and inhaling these helps your brain release serotonin, making you happier.

"I really like the big field near the business school for hanging out, especially for playing sports. I've played Spikeball with some friends there and have thrown the frisbee around." – Theo Kahler, first year in Sustainability Graduate Program

photo by Ken Bennett, university photographer

Kahler gets a little stir-crazy after being inside for too long. So, he enjoys going out to the open field by the Business School to let out some energy. As a member of the Wake Forest Cross Country team, he also spends a lot of time running on trails around campus. "I've also noticed a lot more people doing the same, which makes me happy to see people enjoying my sport," he says.

"More isolated this semester, I've forced myself to venture out and take advantage of what the area around Wake has to offer. and, it is pleasantly surprising how great it has been." – Jeffrey Miller, senior

Just 30 minutes outside of town is Pilot Mountain State Park. Miller says hiking here is a nice escape from campus life and school work. The fresh air clears his mind and the beautiful views give him a sense of added peace. On clear days, you can even see downtown Winston-Salem, he says.

"my favorite spot on campus is any spot where I have settled into stillness and the connection with the present moment has formed itself again. The deepest, warmest, most loving places on the Wake Forest campus – the spot where I am rooted." – Rev. Tim Auman

Wake Forest head chaplain, Rev. Tim Auman has a keen interest in mindfulness and meditation. Though his expertise in the field is renowned, he humbly says "there are no experts in mindfulness." He proposes, instead, that there are certain practices that may lead one to be more mindful.

"Hanging out in nature decreases stress, makes us happier with less brooding, relieves attention fatigue and increases creativity, helps us to be kind and generous, and helps us feel more alive," says Auman.

He explains that an added benefit of being in nature is that admission is free and can be just as easily achieved as walking across campus. With the added stress and anxiety caused by Covid-19, people find themselves looking for instruction on how to cope. This is where Auman points us to practicing mindfulness.

"When the future is full of uncertainty and dread," says Auman, "where can you find peace and comfort except in the present moment? The present moment is that calm center where you can rest and recharge."

Along with the hidden gems discussed above, students also find themselves enjoying the present moment swinging on Davis Field, enoing around campus, exploring Salem Lake, visiting Quarry Park, and walking around Old Salem. Finding comfort in these places, whether alone or socially distancing with friends, has helped students find that calm center for rest and rejuvination.

Photo story by Lauren Berryman, c/o '21