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Ideas for greening when you need to stay indoors

bluebells in wood

All this week, as people are told to stay inside and self isolate, I have been thinking about what we can do to bring green and nature - so important for health and wellbeing - into our indoor lives. I am lucky that I can walk for miles and miles from my front door and meet nobody, but that is a rare thing in today's society.

At points in my life though I have not had that, not because of location but because of the fatigue of chronic illness, so I wondered if a list of the things that helped me retain a connection with nature when I was stuck in bed, might be generally useful now.

1. A view.

Try to get a view of nature outdoors, it doesn't have to be a beautiful outdoors, just a window onto the world. It is most beneficial if it has green there somewhere - a tree or a lawn or shrubs is fine.

Between 1972 and 1981 a researcher called Roger Ulrich tracked the recovery rates of gall bladder patients in a suburban Pensylvanian hospital. He was trying to work out why some patients recovered faster than others when there seemed to be no connection to age or fitness. Ulrich had himself spent a lot of time convalescing at home in his teens and he vividly remembered the pine tree outside his window. He wondered whether the view from a hospital bed could influencerecovery rates.

The beds were all in double occupancy rooms - identical in layout - each with a large window where the view was visible from the bed. Half the rooms looked out onto trees, the others onto a brick wall. When the data was analysed it showed that the patients with the tree view recovered faster, needed lower doses of painkillers and had fewer post operative complications that those looking out onto the wall.

This research has been repeated in different countries, in different specialities, and all reach the same conclusion - that, when you can't get outside, a view matters and that the most beneficial view is of green. Move around your home to find the best view and drink your cup of tea there, even if you are perched on top of the loo.

2. Bring green indoors

Not everyone has a view with green in it, you might only have the brick walls, so you may need to bring it in. Plants and flowers indoors create the same kinds of results - they reduce stress hormones, they purify the air, they connect us with nature when we cannot get outside.

I think that the best gift for a person in self isolation at the moment may well be a plant or a bunch of daffodils.

Put them in front of a window for the best results

3. Scent

Scent is a powerful part of being outside, the brain responds to scent really quickly and that is why essential oils are so therapeutic. To connect to the healing power of nature you can diffuse tree oil (cypress works well and is relatively inexpensive) they give that resinous scent you get when walking through an evergreen forest in the heat.

An experiment was done by the Japanese Professor Dr Qing Li where he diffused tree oils in the Tokyo hotel rooms of 12 Japanese men for 3 nights while they slept. At the end of the experiment they were re-examined and all showed decreased levels of stress hormones, strengthened immune systems, lower blood pressure and decreased scores in anxiety tests. Their lives were the same as usual in every other way - they still worked, still saw family and friends, just spent from 11pm until 8am in the hotel room with the diffused oil.

4. Screens

I am not usually a great fan of screens - we sit in front of them so much already - but there is really interesting research that shows looking at large scale images of green landscape (not the seaside) decreases stress hormones, reduces anxiety and gives a lot of the benefits of actually being outside. It is as if our brain recognises the vibration of the green and classes it as 'nature'.

The image needs to be the majority of your field of vision - so a very big photo book or a laptop/desk top screen rather than a phone - and you need to take at least a few seconds with each image rather than flicking or scrolling.

So if you are missing being outside, put together a few beautiful landscape images, find some birdsong recordings and try and relax into the images. Static images seem to work better than moving ones for reasons that are unclear.

5. Three minutes outside

First thing in the morning and last thing at night ground yourself in nature. If you can actually get outside and stand by your door that is ideal, if you can't (or it is raining too hard) stand in the doorway or by an open window.

Close your eyes and take 10 slow deep breaths in and out.

That is it - a minute and a half to bookend your day in nature.


It was the need for so many people to self isolate at the moment that inspired me to create this list, but really it is a list of things that we can all do, wherever we live, however busy we are, to connect ourselves to the natural world. I would love to hear your experiences and suggestions in the comments.

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Thanks so much Jane. Your words are always wise and comforting. x