What do mental health and gardening have to do with each other? I have been living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder for the past 5 years. For years I have been trying to find new ways to cope with my anxiety. In my research, the coping strategies I kept coming across were mindfulness, exercise, and finding a creative hobby. Only recently did I find a new strategy that worked.
Of all the things to stumble upon, I found gardening. It’s a mix of all three suggestions. How exactly does gardening help with mental health? From the time spent outdoors, to being in the company of plants and pollinators, here are 5 ways that gardening can reduce anxiety.
1. Green Spaces Lower Stress Levels
People spend a majority of their day on electronic devices. It can be straining on our eyes. We often forget about the beauty of nature that exists beyond technology. Get outside! It is a great way to give your eyes a much needed break from screens.
Have you noticed that hospitals have more green space now? The reason behind it is to calm us down. Research through the Vrije University Medical Center of the Netherlands showed that by looking at greenery, stress is reduced, relaxation is induced, and blood pressure lowers significantly. Another study performed by Richard Ulrich compared recovery time of patients that had a view of green space and patients who had a view of a brick wall. The patients who had a view of green space used less pain medication and had hospital stays 9% shorter than those who had the view of a brick wall.
There is a similar practice that originated in Japan called Shinrin-Yoku. It directly translates to “forest bathing.” In this practice, you slowly walk through a forest and observe the landscape with all your senses. As you do so, you will feel the cool breeze on your skin, the heat of the sun on your face and the damp soil on your hands. Immediately you will feel more calm.
2. Gardening Enhances your Happiness
Gardening is a hands-on activity that allows you to start from the ground up. As your garden grows, you'll see the progress you made and the hard work you put into planning and planting a garden of your design.
Being proud of your creation increases the amount of happy hormones you make, like dopamine and serotonin. Our hormones act as chemical messengers. They travel through our blood stream and give instructions to our bodies. When you are engaging in activities that make you happy, these hormones are secreted which enhances your overall mood. Research shows that by going outside, exposure to sunlight stimulates the secretion of these happy hormones.
Gardening is proven to benefit your overall health and well-being. It can enhance developmental skills in children and boost one’s self confidence and self esteem. Engaging with the great outdoors allows for socialization between individuals and creates a spiritual connection between the person and the environment.
3. Gardening Teaches You to Adapt
As someone who is a self proclaimed perfectionist, gardening helps me accept that not everything is perfect and you need to adapt with the ever changing conditions. There are countless ways nature can throw you a curve ball. Weather can be unpredictable, pests can invade and eat your crop, or perhaps your plants are not growing as expected. You will need to adapt to each of these conditions. I am new to gardening, but I strive to make my garden look as full and voluminous as the ones I see on social media. I have learned that these things aren’t handed to you instantly. It takes time and effort. No matter how hard I try to make my garden look picture perfect, it won't be, and I’m happy with that. Gardening teaches us how to adapt to change with it’s perfect imperfections.
4. Gardening is a Form of Exercise
As we’ve all heard before, exercise is highly recommended to reduce anxiety. Sometimes I get just as anxious when I think about making the time to exercise. The great thing about gardening is that it’s basically a secret form of exercise! Keeping busy with tasks like shovelling, moving rocks and hauling dirt allows you to lose 400-600 calories per hour. Spending an hour pulling weeds and planting flowers can burn around 350-450 calories. Not to mention the bending and stretching you get to do. It doesn’t even feel like exercise because you’re too focused on creating your dream garden.
Gardening also enhances muscle strength because you are using the muscles in your legs, buttocks, shoulders, stomach, and arms. Gardening is proven to strengthen and make your joints more flexible. Pushing a lawnmower is comparable to running on a treadmill! As little as 30 minutes of gardening a day can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
5. Gardening Enhances Creativity
Think you aren’t creative? Gardening is an easy way to flex your creative muscles. You get a sense of rhythm and flow as you are gardening. You can create different colour palettes and enhance them with ornamental garden features. If you love the colour purple, find purple plants like Alliums and Wisteria. Allow your personality to shine in the garden and make it your own!
When managing anxiety or any other mental health disorders, it is important to look at them as a strength. It is something that will always be a part of you and you have to treat it like a friend that’s looking out for you. No matter how anxious or terrible you may feel, your garden will always be there for you. As someone who has been on the search for a way to reduce my anxieties, I couldn’t recommend gardening enough. So go out there, be kind, and get your hands in the dirt.
Thank you for reading and giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts about mental health and gardening. Although I am not a trained therapist, I have managed my General Anxiety Disorder and found these tips to be helpful. If you have any questions, or suggestions, please to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tahnia is a second year Nursing student at Ryerson University. She is passionate about sustainability and fighting climate change because it was instilled in her at a very young age.
Tahnia is an extroverted person who gains happiness from other people’s optimistic energy. Animals are her most favourite thing in the world and my brother has a husky that she cannot stay apart from! In her spare time, she enjoys baking and cooking.
Sempik, J. (2010). Green care and mental health: Gardening and farming as health and social care. Mental Health and Social Inclusion, 14(3), 15-22. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.5042/mhsi.2010.0440