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Walking It Off: Coping with Holiday Stress During the Pandemic


When I began this series, “Pandemic Posts from the Pause: New York City in the Age of Coronavirus” in March of 2020, I could see the first young greens of spring from my window. New Yorkers were told to stay home then and away from others. As someone who enjoys walking in the city, I knew that I would need to sacrifice many things this year. I was not going to give up walking.


I quickly figured out that I could safely go to Inwood Hill Park near my house and wander the trails in the old forest. In March, I could breathe in the spring air away from others. There was little else to do during those early days of the “pause.” New Yorkers suffered greatly at the beginning. In a few months we were able to get the numbers down and to manage some semblance of human interaction, at a distance and masked. 


Now, with the beginning of the holidays, the city and nation faces the existential threat of the virus’s return, the political assault on democratic norms, and the ongoing threat of the climate crisis. It’s all too much. So, for those who are able, consider a walk.   

Several news articles have been published this year about the benefits of walking during the pandemic. Beyond the physical benefits, walking is a good way to restore mental health. 

Here are three recent articles to consider:

“Thanksgiving 2020: How to protect mental health,”  Medical News Today. Nov. 21, 2020.

“A study from 2000 found that short, 10–15-minute walks boosted mood and increased calmness.”

The holidays can be stressful, and stress is hard on the mind and body. To cope with the pressures, this article recommends adequate sleep, exercise, maintaining contact with friends (including a safe distance walk), moderation in food and drink, and calculating your own risk. 

“Sedentary Pandemic Life Is Bad for Our Happiness,” Arthur C. Brooks. The Atlantic. Nov. 19, 2020

“When your mind tells you to numb yourself, come to life, instead: Exercise precisely when you most want to cocoon; eat nutrient-dense foods when you most crave junk. A simple way to start practicing this is to go outside for a walk at the moments when you feel the urge to curl up.”

The essay examines the onset of sedentary life with the arrival of the pandemic and the relationship between activity and happiness. 

“When Covid hit, I started walking 20,000 steps a day. It's changed my life,” The Guardian. Nov. 6, 2020. 

“It felt good to move my body. And accomplishing something gave me a jolt of mood-lifting dopamine. In the middle of an achingly difficult year, here was a simple task I could complete – something good for me.”

The author Isaac Fitzgerald takes morning and evening walks in Prospect Park in Brooklyn.


There are many more articles. Search the phrase “walking and pandemic.” 

With the stress of life at this critical juncture, I often turn to the phrase, “Walk it off.” This blog began in 2007 when I often thought New York City was too stressful. I was also going through some personal things, and the natural hobo within looked to escape into the city on foot. And I fell in love with the city and all that was there.


I began this blog also as a weight loss companion, because I fell in love with the city’s pastry shops, pizza slices, and pastrami sandwiches. 

The most frustrating aspect of life in New York City right now for me personally is the inability of go see the city again without taking health risks.  


Still, there’s the forest nearby and the small pleasures of seeing neighbors and friendly shopkeepers on my street. My New York right now is not the large metropolis set in a vast archipelago with many things to see and do, but the city and its natural environment within a few short city blocks. For now, it must be enough. 


As a walker, I saw the spring, the summer, and autumn in New York. My plan is to bundle up and walk through winter, even if most of my walks are confined to my little neck of the woods.

Images of Inwood Hill Park and the Inwood neighborhood by Walking Off the Big Apple from November 4-19, 2020. 

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