Home gardens helped to overcome COVID-related mental stress


During the COVID pandemic, many cities adopted strict lockdowns resulting in stress and anxiety among urban residents


Urban residents spending a long time working in home gardens reported relatively less anxiety compared to those with no home gardens

COVID lockdown and mental stress

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to serious disruptions to people’s lifestyles throughout the world. Originating in Wuhan, China, the pandemic quickly reached other parts of the world and most governments were not well prepared. As the development of effective medicines and vaccines took time, governments and authorities relied on social distancing as the vital public health intervention. In India, on the 24th of March 2020, the central government ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days, but this was later extended until the end of May. This lockdown resulted in the closure of public transport systems, businesses, schools, and almost everything except essential services. While non-pharmaceutical interventions like strict lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and ‘working from home’ greatly helped in slowing down the spread of the virus, they also led to severe mental stress due to the closure of schools, workplaces, and public and private entertainment spaces like parks, cinemas, restaurants, shopping malls, etc. Restricted socialization and limited opportunities to travel outside the home led to prolonged anxiety and depression in many communities, particularly among the older residents who lacked social support. This was further escalated by the news channels and social media, which reported on deaths and misery and added to the anxiety and depression. During the lockdown, suicides were responsible for over 300 deaths in India, of which nearly 80 people committed suicide due to loneliness and fear of testing positive.

Lockdown in India (Source: Wikipedia)

Home gardens reduced anxiety and mental stress

It is well known that connection to pristine nature has a positive psychological effect on humans, particularly for urban residents. Many studies highlight the restorative effect of public green places, which provide essential ecosystem services to improve both physical and mental health. COVID lockdowns and the stay-at-home orders disrupted public life and residents' connection to nature. People were confined in their homes, with limited chance to interact with nature, leading to an accumulation of stress. In this situation, it was observed that home gardens supported people’s re-connection to nature. Socio-psychological research involving residents in the major cities of India showed that home gardens significantly reduced the stress and anxiety experienced by otherwise confined urban residents.

Home gardens are known to provide multiple therapeutic benefits for urban residents and evidence suggests they helped urban residents to reduce their stress during lockdowns.

What factors make a home garden an effective therapeutic landscape?

While home gardens are known to have many therapeutic benefits, their restorative effect depends on many additional factors, including their structural and functional components. For example, varied plant composition (flowers, vegetables, etc.) and increasing the amount of time spent in the garden may derive better restorative benefits. In the empirical research conducted over the first Covid-induced lockdown in India, it was found that people spending more time in the home garden reported less anxiety compared to people who had no home gardens or spent less than 10 min per day. Thus, home gardens in urban areas did provide a substitute for urban green spaces, which helped the mental wellbeing of residents. This research called for the adoption of horticultural therapy, including home gardening in urban areas, which provides health benefits like reducing stress, depression, and anxiety and increases life satisfaction and quality of life.