Every gardener instinctively knows that puttering around with your plants can have a profoundly uplifting effect! The mental health benefits of gardening tend to be underestimated, but are definitely present.
Our gardens confer a special kind of serenity upon us which is often hard to come by in our frenetic, pressured world. It is only in recent years that doctors and mental health professionals have begun to truly delve into the healing potential of gardening. As studies are done, it’s shedding light on an underutilized method for mental health care that’s as close as your own back yard.
Here’s just a few of the ways in which gardening has helped people with a variety of mental and cognitive disorders. If you’re like many people today, you too can benefit from the mental health benefits of gardening!
Gardening and Depression/Anxiety
Depression and anxiety are scourges of the modern world. Statistically speaking, there are ever increasing problems with both in modern life. And it’s becoming a major problem.
Depression and anxiety are seriously debilitating health issues which can crush sufferers’ quality of life and enormously impede their careers, relationships, and lifestyles. In severe cases, they can lead to death through suicide or self-neglect, and they bring with them a whole host of associated health problems.
The good news, however, is that gardening appears to have a positive effect upon these illnesses. Plenty of anecdotal evidence supports this theory, but there’s a lot of sound science backing it up as well. Surrounding oneself with nature generally has a positive effect, as shown in this 2013 study.
The physical element of gardening improves your physical health (which in turn improves mental health), and releases mood-enhancing endorphins. Exercise is a common recommendation to combat depression, and gardening can be a substitute for a trip to the gym.
The simple act of spending time outside in green spaces encourages the brain to release serotonin, a chemical responsible for regulating our moods. Exposure to sunlight has been shown to help deal with the winter blues, as well as increasing the body’s production of vitamin D.
Meanwhile, the cultivation of plants provides a valuable outlet for our more nurturing impulses – not to mention a rewarding sense of pleasure and achievement when they flourish. All of this combined proves a potent force against depression and anxiety!
Gardening and Eating Disorders
Those suffering from eating disorders may well benefit from the anti-depressive qualities of gardening mentioned above, but when people with eating disorders are encouraged to grow their own food, another healing element is added.
In the modern West, the proliferation of food and the lack of effort we go to in order to obtain it has led us to subconsciously view it as something of a throwaway resource. Rather than seeing it as important, we instead see it as something disposable and disconnected from our lives, something which we can use or discard as we please.
This attitude has been implicated in the growing prevalence of eating disorders within the West – particularly when combined with body image issues. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, and can be very hard to effectively beat.
‘Horticultural therapy’ has proven immensely helpful to many eating disorder sufferers. Not only does it help them to peacefully reconnect with themselves, it also enables them to build a healthy and beneficial relationship with their food.
Growing your own food lends an enhanced understanding of its importance and role in our lives. This can be deeply healing to one who is used to viewing food based on its effect on outward appearance.
Gardening and Attention Deficit Disorders
This one’s more a case of gardening for your kids than gardening for your own health – but having calm, happy children is in all fairness an enormous weight off any parent’s mind!
Attention deficit disorders are something of a controversial issue, but if you do believe that they exist and are not merely a product of modern parenting, then 5% or more of all American children have one of them. These disorders can have a serious effect upon the education and childhood of affected children, and puts them at a severe disadvantage in both learning and social environments.
However, studies have revealed that children with ADD who regularly spend time in green spaces swiftly experience a marked reduction in their symptoms. While some cases may still need supplemental medication, any improvement is a great step.
So whether you have a spacious garden or a terrace with growing tubs, filling it with plant life could give you healthier, happier, more alert children. All you have to do is coax them away from the phone, gaming system or computer and outside. Once there, hand them some seeds and let the mental health benefits of gardening work their magic!
Gardening and Infertility
Infertility affects one out of ten couples, making it a serious source of stress for people around the globe. Infertility can put a strain on a relationship and lead to grief for both partners.
There are times when couples choose to seek medical treatment for infertility issues, but there are natural strategies that can be tried first. Much to the surprise of many, gardening is one of them.
There are aspects of gardening that may help infertile couples as they try to conceive. Stress is often a component in infertility, and the positive effects gardening has on lowering stress have been well-documented.
It’s also been found that people who garden are more likely to eat the foods they plant themselves. Fruits and vegetables are part of a well-rounded, healthy diet, and for women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that makes getting pregnant a challenge, diet can be a major factor in dealing with this ailment. Eating healthy food is advice that doctors give to patients hoping to conceive, and gardening can encourage that tendency.
Gardening and Grief
Grief can be a powerful emotion that threatens to derail a person’s life. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a scary medical diagnosis, or the end of a relationship, grief strikes all people at different points in their lives.
There are those who choose to try to escape their grief through unhealthy means, such as drinking or binge eating. However, a simple therapeutic way to work through grief is to start a garden.
Students in Ohio took this idea and used it to help them heal after a classmate was lost in a tragic accident. They created a Zen garden that served as a memorial for their classmate and a calm, peaceful place they could care for when reflecting as they tried to move on from the loss. It gave them a location and a way to face their emotions and work through them.
Even just a small garden will give someone struggling with grief something to do with both their hands and minds. They will also get in touch with nature, a major help when it comes to grieving as well as depression, and they will observe the life cycle, including the decay and end, in an environment that also regenerates and offers new life.
The physical movement that comes with gardening can also offer a mental boost, as can simply having something to look forward to or be responsible for, even if it’s just getting up each day to water plants or weed the garden.
Gardening and Chronic Illness
Chronic illnesses, defined as illnesses that last longer than three months and offer regular symptoms and side effects, are on the rise all over the world. This alarming fact has researchers wondering why people are less healthy and in more pain than in years past. Unfortunately, the prediction is that the occurrence of chronic illnesses will continue to rise.
Though chronic illnesses tend to plague people long term, there are still ways to lessen the symptoms that aggravate everyday life. Gardening is one of them. Gardening offers a low-impact form of exercise that allows movement without strain, but still increases the heart rate. Exercise is always on the top of list of ways to maintain one’s health or help with ailments, and gardening is not an intimidating form of physical activity.
It’s also likely that if someone grows food items, they are going to eat them. Knowing where food comes from and what was put on it helps ensure those eating it of the quality and lack of contamination. Chronic illness sufferers can eat a healthier diet while simultaneously avoiding chemicals that may be present in other produce.
Chronic illnesses present both mental and physical stress, and gardening helps for the former and the latter. Alleviating the mental stress that comes with managing a chronic illness by gardening can lessen pain levels and help sufferers avoid falling further into depression or anxiety.
These are only a few of the mental health benefits of gardening. Whether you’re growing old in the garden or seeking the benefits of ecotherapy, it can be a mood booster. Have you used your garden as a mental health aid, and if so, how? Share your stories in the comment section!