Elon Answers: Yes, you can go for a walk

This is part of a series of articles featuring responses by Elon University faculty members to questions about the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) submitted by Alamance County community members.

Can I go for a walk outside? Are there other alternatives to exercising in a gym?

Amanda Chunco, associate professor of environmental studies

The short answer is “Yes.” Walking outside is totally fine as long as you stay at least six feet away from other people.

The longer answer is that exercise is especially important right now. Even 30 minutes of light exercise can help your mind and body stay strong. And exercise can help with stress, anxiety, and even mild depression. Running, biking or just going for a walk around the block can all be done safely as long as you stay at least 6 feet away from other people. Gardening is another form of outdoor activity that provides both physical and mental exercise.

Several fitness centers and yoga studios are offering online classes for free or at a reduced cost to help you stay motivated or try something new. Many websites have free exercise videos for people at home who lack fancy gym equipment or have limited space. Try an online search for “hotel room workouts” for several options!

Amanda Chunco is an associate professor of environmental studies at Elon University. Reach her at achunco@elon.edu.

How can people maintain their mental health and manage potential anxiety while practicing social distancing?

Bilal Ghandour, assistant professor of psychology

The term social distancing might make some people feel anxious because it sounds like isolation. I prefer the term physical distancing instead. We can remain social without physical closeness by using technology. Maintaining social relationships can also help us to feel supported, and can reduce the negative mental health effects of this unusual time.

Nothing can replace in-person contact, but workers of all kinds are quickly learning how to provide their services remotely. Teachers, therapists, and consultants now provide knowledge, comfort, and business advice online. As COVID-19 forces us to learn new technology, some of the disruptive emotional chaos we now feel will be replaced by feelings of empowerment and control. — Bilal Ghandour

Can you speak to the human experience of dealing with pandemic? What are best practices for what to do to stay happy and healthy?

This situation is unusual from a mental health perspective. During a crisis like this, symptoms of depression and anxiety are common. These experiences almost always feel unique to the person going through the pain, even though there are many others feeling the same way. Remember we are all experiencing some level of fear and anxiety. No one individual is being personally targeted even though it may feel this way.

Looking at history can also help. For most prior pandemics, our ancestors literally faced an invisible enemy. Even after microscopes were invented, societies experiencing a pandemic often lacked basic knowledge of science, information technology, and detailed international news. In that sense, we can consider ourselves lucky.

History also teaches the world will never be completely safe. Disruptive events, such as the Black Plague, world wars and the 9/11 terrorist attacks remind us certain things are outside of our control. These events also teach us, however, that societies can and will rebuild themselves eventually.

As the pandemic unfolds, we should remember that most of us still feel safe in our own homes. We now have the opportunity to explore what makes our homes meaningful, and how we can use these protected spaces to feel strong and healthy.

Bilal Ghandour is an assistant professor of psychology. Reach him at bghandour@elon.edu.