Reopening Alberta Provincial Parks Will Benefit Mental Health

Alberta Provincial Parks Are Open This Weekend

Alberta’s provincial parks are open this weekend for the first time in more than a month. The closure of these parks, as well as national parks due to the COVID-19 crisis, has been difficult on the morale of many. They are now happy to be able to enjoy nature, a gift for their mental health.

Camping enthusiasts are also delighted, as the Alberta Parks reservation site will resume service on May 14. “The campsites will then be opened gradually,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney when he announced Thursday.

Environmentalist Harvey Locke believes it was the right decision to make. “In times of crisis, people need nature to relieve themselves,” he says. It is easier to keep your distance in a large space than on the crowded sidewalks of municipalities.

Harvey Locke has already imagined solutions to maintain physical distance between park users, if necessary. “One can imagine a permit system,” “tee times,” he argued. “We can make loops only, not round trip, to reduce contact and keep distance. We should be very creative in letting people have contact with nature.”

The trails and facilities of the national parks, managed by Parks Canada, remain closed until further notice.

The benefits of nature

Many studies document the beneficial effects of a nature walk on mental health. “It can lower the level of cortisol in the body for example, and decrease the activation which is in the areas of the brain which are involved in stress and anxiety,” explains the associate professor of psychology at the University of Ottawa, Nafissa Ismail.

Studies also show that a walk in a natural environment reduces anxiety more than a walk in an urban environment. However, the marches in his residential neighborhood gain an additional advantage in these times of pandemic, according to Nafissa Ismail.

“Right now, we need to see people around us, we need this social contact,” she says. “If we go out on our street, we will meet a neighbor at his door, we can give him a hello.”

Personally I find that it is more beneficial to go walking on the street than to go to the parks, where we will still be alone. Right now, we need to see other people.

Nafissa Ismail, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Ottawa

It is social relations that will have the most benefits on the morale of confined people, she believes.

“According to expert projections, many people will emerge from this isolation suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder if the level of anxiety and stress is not well managed during the period of isolation,” she says.

She therefore recommends using all the tools available to take care of her mental health: eating well, exercising and yoga, and maintaining meaningful social contact are all elements of this healthy lifestyle.

We want to try to see which technique works well for us, to calm us down and allow us to sleep well , says Nafissa Ismail.

Hopefully, other provinces will soon open their provincial parks as well.

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