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Tending to Your Tulsi Can Provide Psychological Relief

Growing up in a South Kolkata apartment overlooking a busy street, Amartya would often see his mother, steal herself away from the daily household chores and spend a few moments in their tiny balcony, overgrown with an odd number of plants that she grew. From Tulsi (where she would unwaveringly light a lamp, come wind or hail), a crimson hibiscus, some speckled crotons, and the usual seasonal marigolds or rustic nameless carnations, Amartya’s mom had a special place in her heart, and her house for innumerable fauna — caressing their leaves, talking to them as they were her own children, coaxing them to bloom, against all odds.

Hibiscus flower

Even as a child, Amartya knew that those few moments his mom spent with her plants, as the evening sun settled in behind the neighbor’s house, was something special. Moments that gave her mom respite from daily conundrums and energized her to face all odds while raising a family of three children. Looking back, Amartya would be insanely jealous at his mom spending her time with her plants, but somewhere understood that it was something his mother needed. And as years went by, her love for plants grew on him like the tendrils of the creepers that his mom kept, tangled their way up the veranda grills.

Thus, when Amartya decided to shift to the US, triggered by memories of his mother, he quietly packed in saplings of his childhood plants into the oversized suitcase that carried his meager belongings as he ventured out to start afresh. And thankfully, for him, hibiscus, tulsi, and speckled crotons helped create an oasis of sorts, in his rented apartment in East Village.

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Amartya, a confirmed bachelor, was confined within the walls of his apartment along with the foliage, comprising of a few other South Asian varieties of plants he had amassed over the last 5 years. And truth be told, he admits that they provided him with a respite from all the turbulent news he heard outside. Much like his mom, years ago, Amartya says he quickly steals away some time from his daily work and house schedule to tend to his plants, talk to them, and disappear from the harsh reality of present times.

In fact, with physical distancing measures to contain COVID-19 having included closing beaches, playgrounds, and parks, adding to the challenges to our mental health, experts, too, opine that having a slice of nature at home does support human well-being.

For those who are lucky enough to have a backyard, a 2017 study, presented in Preventive Medicine Reports suggests that gardening can offer benefits such as reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression apart from improving physical fitness. 

However, if one stays in an apartment, indoor gardening too has its own benefits. A volunteer, who participated in a study, published in Urban Ecosystems that highlighted the importance of nature in urban living said that having a small vegetable garden and flowers in pots makes him happy — a sentiment Amartya echoes, saying that seeing things grow in the city, even as everything around him is in disharmony is a beautiful and calming experience. 

Scientists find that tending to one’s garden helps suppress the sympathetic nervous system activity and diastolic blood pressure and promotes comfortable, soothed, and natural emotions.

Indoor microgreen garden

Experts have often hinted at the importance of nature in one’s mental and physical well-being, but it is only now that it holds even more truth as active interaction with indoor plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress compared with mental work.

While most people think houseplants are just a way to beautify an indoor space, having a few plants scattered around the home can also provide one with emotional wellbeing during the pandemic. Amartya, on his part, believes that apart from the scientific jargon associated with indoor plants, looking at those plants, not only evoke a sense of nostalgia, but watering, pruning, and caring for the vegetation helped him maintain his sanity even as everything familiar around him, suddenly dissipated into the unknown.


Umang Sharma is a media professional, avid reader, and film buff. His interests lie in making the world a better place through the power of the written word.


 

The Intersection of Parenting and Mental Health During a Pandemic

When Shruti got the chance to relocate to the U.S. at the end of 2019, little did she know that her life-changing decision would be one of the hardest she ever made. Cradling a two-year-old and a teenage boy in tow, the recently-divorced IT professional shifted to Silicon Valley with the hopes of starting afresh in January of 2020. A few months down the line, everything came crashing down.

When the lockdown happened in the US, after the country faced devastation with the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across states, Shruti had barely settled down. She had to get her elder son into a school and got a friend to help take care of her younger one as she geared up for office. Things did not go according to plan and suddenly Shruti found herself stuck at home with a teenager who had no friends in the new country and a youngster who needed constant attention as she tried to reshuffle her home and work-from-home environment. She was not the only one.

For 32-year-old single-mother Neha (name changed on request), life changed drastically when in March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world. Her younger son, Viraj, was 15 at the time and was studying in the 10th grade. Starting March 16, schools in Maryland were closed and the world descended into uncertainty. Her son was stuck at home, cut off from social life. The sight was uncanny and like us, everyone was unaware when the normalcy would return.

For Neha, seeing her son Viraj at home was especially difficult. Prior to the pandemic, Viraj used to meet his friends, played outdoor sports, and preferred engaging in co-curricular activities. Many like Viraj were forced to be in isolation indefinitely. Thankfully, Viraj had friends in the neighborhood, so despite having inhibitions, Lucia allowed him to play basketball outside with a few other youngsters from around her house.

There are thousands like Neha across the U.S. for whom the pandemic brought about fresh challenges. It has been particularly strenuous for single parents trying to work and care for their youngsters. Everyone has been more anxious and worried during the pandemic. Younger children may not have the words to describe their feelings but are more likely to act out their stress, anxiety, or fear through their behavior. This in turn can upset parents, particularly if they are already stressed.

A study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry finds that lone fathers and lone mothers have higher rates of mood disorders and SUDS (Subjective Unit of Distress Scale) than their married counterparts, which is indicative of the disadvantages of this sort of a family structure that might have negative consequences for all parents.

Let’s face it, the ever-shifting demands of parenting in a pandemic are leading to stress, anxiety, and depression, not to mention economic hardship for those forced to leave their jobs to care for their children.

According to the American Psychological Association, home in the age of COVID-19 has become the office, the classroom, and even the gym. Parents are struggling to not only keep their children occupied, but also to oversee their education as they continue to do their daily chores, finish office work and take care of other necessities in their family life. Daycares have shut down amidst the pandemic and parents or a single parent has to simultaneously take care of their youngsters while they are online fulfilling their professional obligations. 

Shruti, has since then, flown back to India with her children, thanks to one of the many government-sponsored flights bringing back ex-pats to their native countries. She looks back at those fear-riddled stressful months when she and her children were stranded within four walls, she notes that, while it is normal to feel fearful, anxious, or stressed given the current situation, there are ways one can de-escalate the mental-health issues of parenting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

So what should parents do to ensure proper mental health for themselves and their children?

For starters, the APA suggests that parents should set boundaries within the home space since they tend to blur when work life and home occur at the same place. Setting specific boundaries that separate the work from the home environment helps the child and parent have a safe haven within the home. 

Experts also opine that while it is impossible for either parents or their wards to put in normal hours during such stressful times, one has to maintain a routine, even if it entails a child to stay up later than usual to finish a particular work. Routines enable families to cope with stress and be more resilient.

Finally, relaxing screen time will allow youngsters to stay connected with their social circle and ease parental stress. 

Hope these tips help you during this transitional time!


Umang Sharma is a media professional, avid reader, and film buff. His interests lie in making the world a better place through the power of the written word.