Coronavirus: natural ways to wellbeing during the lockdown

Categories: School of Health and Society

As the nation adjusts to life under lockdown, many people are concerned with how to keep themselves and their loved ones physically and mentally well during the pandemic. 

Dr Michelle Howarth

For those with access to outdoor space, or who are well enough to make the most of their daily outdoor exercise, nature may offer an answer.

Dr Michelle Howarth, a senior lecturer at the University of Salford, works on evaluating the impact of green space on the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities. Here, she explains how experiencing the outdoors (even just through a window!) can help keep us well.

Michelle tells us: “We’ve all had a bizarre new reality imposed on the normality of our home environment. As we adjust to staying home, social distancing and home working, our diaries are suddenly bursting with virtual ‘team meetings’. In this climate of worry and uncertainty, our emotional health and wellbeing is more important than ever.

“But let’s not forget what nature has to offer. Florence Nightingale herself once noted: “I shall never forget the rapture of fever patients over a bunch of brightly coloured flowers…. people say the effect is only on the mind. It is no such thing. The effect is on the body too!” 

“Contemporary evidence (and there’s lots of it – including our very own research here in Salford!) suggests that nature is a great healer. It can offer respite to anyone able to look outside, take their (once a day exercise) walk or where possible, get stuck in and participate in nature through gardening, creating window boxes or even Bonsai trimming. 

“We have known for some time that nature has significant health and wellbeing benefits. It was Jules Pretty who pointed this out in 2004 when he suggested that three ‘levels’ of nature are present in the human arsenal of resilience: viewing, being, and participating in nature. 

“Simply having a view of nature has been shown to improve mood and reduce anxiety. The early Victorians were aware of this when they developed public parks and spaces. More recently, a 1984 study of people recovering in hospital from gall bladder removal found that those patients with a view of a tree needed fewer pain killers and recovered more quickly. 

“Even the colours of nature help – the human eye is designed to respond quickly to colour, and we know that blues and greens relax us and induce a sense of calm. Other studies illustrate how the colour blue can help reduce tremors in anxious people, and green is understood to help us rest and heal. 

“Being in nature boosts our wellbeing through igniting two other senses; that of smell and sound. Research from The Kings Fund found that bird song can boost mental wellbeing and is a great antidote to stress and anxiety. Equally, our noses have the ability to sniff out a good thing, and phytoncides emitted by evergreen scents from trees can increase serotonin and help combat stress. 

“Finally – getting stuck in, getting your hands dirty, and participating in nature is great for all the senses and has a beneficial impact on physical and mental wellbeing. 

“At the University of Salford, our research with the RHS Wellbeing Garden at RHS Bridgewater and with local network Incredible Edible has highlighted improvements in mental health when people take part in activities such as gardening. People report feeling more alive, active and that they have greater meaning and purpose when immersed in nature. 
“So, what’s not to like? Nature is free (mostly!), it’s just outside your window, it doesn’t differentiate between populations, gender, age, religion or circumstance – it has always been there for us and is still there for us today. If at all possible during these uncertain times, do try and take an opportunity to enjoy nature at whatever level you can – it’ll do you the world of good.”

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