The current situation is pushing health care systems to the limit, and stories of loss percolate the news media and our own thoughts. While heeding requirements to limit contagion, it is also vital to look after oneself. I live in the hard-hit northern Italian region of Lombardy, where all non-essential trips outside the home have long been banned. As a usually active outdoor athlete, I have developed some tips to cope with cabin fever, look after mind and body, and keep spirits high.
Focus on Mental Health
Mental health is always important, however with an ongoing global pandemic and limited opportunities to get outside, focusing in on our own mental well-being becomes even more critical. Luckily, in recent years, the stigma surrounding mental health has started to fade and simultaneously, resources have increased. The western world has embraced meditation as an effective way to increase concentration and well-being. It starts with simply focusing on being present and your own breathing; I’ve found Headspace.com to be a good place to start.
Yoga, in addition to it’s benefits for mobility and strengthening, is essentially an exercise in focusing on the present. I’ve long used a 20-minute climber yoga (first episode is free on YouTube), but there are myriad options available online.
As my childhood friend and current mental health professional Jason Connell told me, “taking the time to do one good thing for your mental health each day – whether that’s a bit of exercise, meditation, journaling, or really enjoying a piece of chocolate – will make a difference. This is especially true during times of uncertainty and difficulty.”
Move Your Body
If you can get outside safely without breaking any local ordinances, I fully encourage you to do so, with two caveats: 1) dial it back, and 2) consider your surroundings. Setting off an avalanche and triggering a rescue is obviously highly irresponsible, potentially putting dozens of responders into close contact.
A broken collarbone on a bike ride and subsequent visit to the ER should be avoided at all costs. Either recreate in a way which an injury is highly unlikely or take all measures to reduce risks.
When going out for a leisurely stroll, consider your setting. City parks are getting overfilled during lunch and after working hours, and popular trailheads are packed on the weekend. Why not try out some random paths close to home, or choose an off-peak time to get outside?
With some many athletes posting their home workout routines on social media, even the most gym-averse of us can find some exercises to try out at home. I have long used different variations on a circuit of body-weight exercises to both efficiently hit all major muscles-groups and elevate my heart rate (think squats, lunges, pushups, pullups, planks, etc.). Some blood flow is helpful for our mental state, and a stable core and strong lower body will carry over to our primary, outdoor activities.
Tune Up Your Gear
Upon a return to normalcy, wouldn’t it be great if all our gear was in tip-top shape? Give your resort skis or boards a coat of summer wax (don’t scrape it off). If you’re a shred-it and shed-it mountain biker, you’d be amazed what a bucket of warm, soapy water and a few stiff brushes can do for your machine.
While you’re at it, check the bolts and inspect any damage to your frame and parts. Now is also the perfect time to undertake those more complex repairs.
Performing a lower-leg service on a mountain bike is a relatively simple with the right preparation and organization, and you’ll have learned a skill for life.
Climbers: clean your ropes. I like to use a sink with two basins or two buckets of water: one warm with a bit of mild soap, the other clear. Lightly hand-agitate in the first and then run through the clear water to rinse. This also gives you the opportunity to inspect the sheath for damage.
Now is also a great time to clean and waterproof shells, mend holes, and organize gear closets.
Plan New Adventures
Planning new adventures, epic one-days, overnights or multi-day adventures, frees our minds from the current situation and transports us into a calmer future. Additionally, once we return to normalcy, a handful of pre-planned adventures in the pipeline will save us valuable organizing time.
Motivate Through Books
Mountain climbing is inherently a literary sport. Until recently, the only way to recount an achievement was to write about it yourself. Add the allure of the high alpine, vertical granite walls, danger, and eccentric personalities, and a genre of mountaineering literature unfolds.
Here’s a quick list of some of my favorites:
Alone on the Wall – Alex Honnold: Co-written by Honnold, a gripping tale of the unlikely rock star climber and earth-bound alien.
Let My People Go Surfing – Yvonne Chouinard: The seminal work by climbing legend and Patagonia founder on his company’s mission, an overview of his life’s work
No Picnic on Mount Kenya – Felice Benuzzi: quirky, true story of an Italian POW’s escape from east-African prison to scale the continent’s second highest mountain.
Also check out a round-up of the best outdoor books on MTNweekly.
Learn Something New
With the right mindset, we can find productive / creative users for our additional time, trying to be thankful for that which we have. I have been using the time to practice knots, preparing for alpine adventures on ice and mixed terrain. Additionally, I’ve appreciated using the time to read, play guitar and spend time with my family, all of which I cannot do nearly as much in normal circumstances.
Which brings me to my final point – with the right mindset, having looked after your mind and body, are you best prepared to support others, so we can all get through this situation. Look forward to seeing you on the other side of the pass.