Following on from my last blog on mental health and how companies can support their staff, in this blog, I’m looking at what you can do to manage anxiety and stress during lockdown and beyond.
Many people think that mental health doesn’t refer to them. But if you have a brain, you have mental health. And all of us have been under serious strain recently and we all have our own individual ways of approaching how we deal with stress, anxiety and pressure.
I know people use this term ‘unprecedented’ a lot but these pressures are on a greater and more far reaching scale than we have ever seen before. The most comparable event of the Spanish Flu was 100 years ago and society has changed almost beyond recognition since then.
Many say we are on the dawn of a mental health pandemic. I am no expert on this field but I do know that when pressure builds up, like a shaken coke bottle, then releasing that pressure become inevitable. Ideally, you want to release that cap slowly so it doesn’t erupt and manage that pressure before it becomes unmanageable.
Many of us have turned to nature, and particularly gardening during this time as a way to release that bottleneck of stress. Garden centres have been rammed, almost everyone on my street is exchanging vegetable plants and even the post office is selling compost. As a nation, we’ve gone gardening mad.
And there is plenty of science to back up why gardening can boost your mental and physical health - The RHS is a good source for reading research on why gardening makes us feel better, the healing power of nature and how gardening can help patients cope with life’s challenges.
The restorative benefits of being outside and gardening
On the day before lockdown started, I spent £50 on seeds at the garden centre and picked up a free mini plastic greenhouse on my community Facebook site. For me, it was the best mental health survival kit to withstand the increasing pressures of shielding, home schooling, furlough and the isolation of working from home. Between the madness of home pressures, I’ve been engrossed in quiet moments growing seeds, tending to them, planting them on, and am now picking my sweet peas and harvesting my potatoes and courgettes. Simple pleasures that have given me time for myself outside (the weather has helped), some mental respite and a different focus.
Much of my gardening inspiration came from Kat Hall, a vet and Airbnb owner who responded to the lockdown by posting daily on her Instagram @buttercliffe_garden, sending seeds to anyone who wanted to grow a garden even with the smallest plots of land or even a window box. Kat said, 'Having suffered from depression in the past, the combination of sunlight, nature, simple and tangible successes that gardening gives me has been fundamental in keeping the black dog at bay and has meant in this time of strife, I've never been happier. I’ve loved watching people’s confidence and excitement blossom as they get bitten by the gardening bug, it's such a simple and rewarding hobby’.
Alive Activities know from experience what a positive difference outside space and gardening can make. Their gardening projects invigorate elderly residents in care homes, helping them to find joy in life again, be inspired and rejuvenate their mental health. Not only do they run several community gardens across Bristol, they also manage intergenerational gardening sessions, which has the double positive of benefiting both younger and older participants in a truly uplifting way.
Isobel Jones, CEO of Alive says, “Even just the smallest connection with nature, whether it’s listening to bird song from a window, or smelling lavender can make a difference. Gardening is really sensory – so even if people have advanced dementia, it can have a profound effect on their wellbeing. It’s been so difficult not being able to go into care homes or run our community gardens during lockdown, but we know it will be one of the first things that older people will want to come back to.”
Frances Stewart also understands the many benefits of gardening and being outside to support people’s mental health. She gained experience as a psychiatric nurse helping people cope under extreme mental distress. She also has a business background and has wored in some challenging environments. In recent years, she set up Frances Stewart Gardens, wanting to spend the rest of her career following her passion for landscaping and gardens. After retraining she has found her heart's work. She puts her success in designing gardens down to her ability to listen to people’s needs and her previous business experience. ‘It’s important to be able to be outside in the air, listening to the wildlife and just being’, says Frances.
As I sit here overlooking my garden brimming with towering sunflowers, stuffed vegetable beds and hoards of seedlings, my gardening survival kit has worked for me. We all have different ways of coping with stress and anxiety but it doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated. For many of us the simple pleasures of the sun on our faces, the soil on our hands and watching the slow change of nature is the antitode to the pressures of this unusual time.