In pre-pandemic times, the hustle and bustle of everyday life makes stopping to take in nature a total afterthought for many. But now, with lockdowns in place in many areas, and social distancing guidelines wiping schedules clean (or at least minimizing human interaction and social stimulus), those tides are changing, specifically when it comes to sunsets. If the surge of kaleidoscope-hued sunsets on social media I’ve been seeing in my feed on a daily basis are any indication, it seems people have rekindled their love of the slowly-sinking sun. Perhaps this new appreciation for the natural world is a positive feature to come out of COVID-19.
Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Hinkle, LMFT, says there’s a psychological reason sunsets on social media are abundant right now: They provide a source of certainty in a world currently clouded with doubt. “We can rely on the sun rising and the sun setting daily, no matter what else is going on in our lives or in the world,” she says. “Humans like consistency, routine, and predictability. Nature is a way for us to connect with the world that feels safe for us, in a time when there may not be many other ways to do so.” That’s also why you may find yourself noticing your neighborhood’s birds more or longing to walk every day.
“We can rely on the sun rising and the sun setting daily, no matter what else is going on in our lives or in the world.” —therapist Elizabeth Hinkle, LMFT
There’s also an astrological perspective that points to why we’re more smitten with the sunset than usual. Because the sun sets in the west, it’s considered the “descendent” or the cusp of the seventh astrological “house,” which rules relationships in astrology, says astrologer and healer Rachel Lang. The first house cusp, or the “ascendent,” sits on the opposite side on the east and represents the self. “The sunset, therefore, symbolically represents our desire to connect with others and to step beyond ourselves to be in a relationship,” says Lang, adding that right now, people who are lonely might be appreciating sunsets’ synchronicity with their own desire to be with others. And meanwhile, those quarantining with a loved one might feel especially lucky to have a partner throughout this time when they look up at the sky right before nightfall.
What’s more is that there’s also a scientific reason to explain why the sunsets on social media and in real life are actually better right now—particularly in northern regions. First, the colder months of the year boast clear, unhazy sunsets due to the lack of humidity, meteorologist Stephen Corfidi of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) previously told Vox. And second, adds Corfidi, pollution dulls sunsets. So, presumably, residents of cities like Los Angeles, who may be experiencing cleaner-than-usual air due to a lack of working commutes, are also experiencing pretty exceptional finales to their WFH grind in the form of a visual show in the sky.
No matter what system of belief you choose to lean into to explain your new sunset-chasing habit, though, Hinkle recommends treating your daily ogling of the night sky as a bonafide ritual. “Look for quiet spots in nature when possible—the fewer outside sounds of the world, such as traffic, the better,” she says. “Limit other noises, because even conversations and music can be a distraction. Tune into the sights and sounds of nature. Notice what you hear, see, smell, taste, touch.” Then, she says, try a literal grounding practice by pressing your bare feet into the Earth while you walk or stand.
By making a habit of this mindful moment, you’ll be able to find a daily bright spot, even amid dimming light.
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