Gardening is something that so many people find solace in. There is something about spending time in nature in a green environment with a natural restorative element to it that can contribute strongly to our mental health and wellbeing. It can be gratifying in itself in so many ways. It can be healing, nurturing, stress-reducing, and satisfying to watch gardens grow and know that our own effort went into making it flourish.
If you’re anything like me and lack any hint of a green thumb, you may be wondering how gardening can have such a significant, positive impact on mental health. There is quite a bit of empirical research behind gardening and how it relates to our mental health. After doing my own research, I’ve come to realize how truly beneficial it can be.
Here are some areas in which gardening can help improve our mental health and wellbeing:
- 1) Gardening Can Help Reduce Stress and Anxiety
- Many people find gardening helpful in reducing stress. Putting your hands in the soil, feeling the warmth in the sun, and noticing the life around you while doing so has a calming effect. It is a great way to practice grounding and being in the moment, as it’s something that requires a lot of time, focus, and effort. Intentionally putting effort into gardening and being with nature allows for time where we can quiet our minds and center.
- 2) Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Growth
- Along with elements of mindfulness, gardening can also help us expand upon our level of acceptance and break any perfectionist tendencies we may have. It is easy to feel like we have to do things the right way, and therefore, the outcome will always be successful. As much as we’d like that to be the case, it isn’t always. Because gardening isn’t always completely in our control, it can offer an opportunity to to accept the fact that things might not always go as planned. No matter how well you plan and execute your garden, there are many factors that are out of control while doing so, like inclement weather or destruction caused by critters or bugs.
- This acceptance and growth mindset can be carried into other areas of your personal or professional life. Gardening can help us learn that not everything that goes wrong may be a true “failure,” but rather an opportunity to grow and learn from our mistakes.
- 3) Self-Esteem
- On the flip side from accepting when things don’t go quite right, it is important to celebrate the things that do go as planned when gardening. There is great satisfaction in watching hard work pay off when plants flourish and are healthy. Having a garden takes a lot of effort and critical attention, and there is great payoff to watching its success that can contribute to boosts in self-esteem
- 4) Depression
- Gardening helps us connect to nature on a higher level. It offers us a space to focus on the “big picture” and some time to escape from thoughts rooted in depression that are self-defeating. Additionally, the physical labor that gardening requires actually releases serotonin and dopamine, which are chemicals in the brain associated with happiness, mood stabilization, pleasure, and gratification.
Further, the world of horticultural therapy has been widely researched. While gardening is more of a hobby, though still considered horticulture, horticultural therapy is a structured therapeutic approach. This type of therapy is facilitated by a qualified therapist and participants are taught new skills that help with identified treatment goals. The idea behind this type of therapy is to engage participants in active and/or passive plant involvement or plant-related activities that assist with reaching established goals. Types of goals that may be set can range from improving cognitive ability, to regaining physical coordination, to learning to work independently and problem-solve.
If any of the above sparks your interest in gardening and/or horticultural therapy, here are some resources below:
- American Horticultural Therapy Association: https://www.ahta.org/horticultural-therapy
- Starting a Garden: https://sidereallife.com/how-to-start-a-flower-garden/
- Mental Health and Horticultural Therapy: https://medium.com/naturehub/how-to-cultivate-your-mental-health-with-horticultural-therapy-33d81fa068a3
By Kristi Zalinka, EAP Intern