The impact of Covid-19 has shone a light on things we previously took for granted. From gym classes to concerts to 'just popping out' to the shops, that which was everyday has become the stuff of daydreams.
One major shift has been the way we use and appreciate green space. Across the UK, and much of the world, people are realising just how important nature is for our mental and physical wellbeing.
Access to green spaces has been limited depending on one's place in country, access to cars and one's own health. By following the government’s instruction to stay at home, we have accepted that we must sacrifice some level of contact with nature. This has affected some more than others: over half of Londoners live in flats rather than houses, often with no garden attached, and those who need to self-isolate don’t have the opportunity to make use of green spaces, unless they’re private ones.
Now that the government has started to ease lockdown restrictions, things are getting easier, but many families are still concerned about contracting the virus, remaining reluctant to spend as much time outdoors as they had before lockdown began. The vulnerable are still facing an extended period of reduced contact with nature.
The impact of this on our mental and physical health cannot be overstated. Humans have evolved to live and work with nature. Spending so much time indoors, and in front of screens leaves us exposed to increased levels of stress fatigue. Plants and green spaces are immensely effective at reducing tension and increasing concentration, something we need more than ever in these uncertain times.
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Navigating this rapidly-changing situation is difficult, and while social distancing has surely saved lives, the knock-on effects of lockdown are yet to be seen. The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies reports that antidepressant prescriptions have risen by over 10% since lockdown was announced, and it’s not hard to see why. Earlier this month, the Royal Horticultural Society published the results of a study with the University of Exeter, which found that 71% of people who spent time in their gardens credited it with improving their mental wellbeing. This follows wider research that shows how quickly we can suffer, both as individuals and as communities, when our contact with nature diminishes.
Spending more time outdoors is a great way to boost our mental health, but what happens when this isn’t possible?
Happily, there are lots of exciting initiatives helping to fill the gap. The Chelsea Flower Show, having been cancelled just weeks before it was due to take place, has produced a virtual show available online. Monty Don used the platform to speak out about his own battles with depression, and how caring for plants has helped him to tap into their ‘healing power’ and nurture his mental health at the same time. While in Halesowen, a conservation enthusiast has cultivated sunflower seedlings and left them as gifts around his local park, for those who find them to take home and nurture.
If there are any upsides in this gruelling pandemic, hopefully we will not be able to appreciate the natural world we often neglect more than before. When we understand how plants affect us as human organisms, it’s much easier for us to see spending time with nature as an act of self-care, and to appreciate how much our stress levels can be reduced because of them. The Bloombox philosophy is centred around three major plant benefits: improving our breathing by keeping plants around the home, allowing them to restore our mental equilibrium, and letting the act of nurturing them boost our mood. When we can’t spend time in outdoor green spaces, we can always bring plants into our homes and benefit from the mental health boosts they bring with them.
This article was initially published on May 22nd 2020.