A recent scientific study done by scientists at the University of Florida found that “gardening activities lowered stress, anxiety and depression in healthy women.” The study followed women between the ages of 26 and 49 who attended twice-weekly meetings where they learned to garden and actively did so. None of the participants had ever gardened before and none had any major mental or physical health issues. The researchers came to the conclusion that “many people may indeed reap mental health benefits from working with plants — even if they’ve never gardened before.” So, does gardening reduce stress? According to this and other studies, it sure does. In this article we will look at some of the reasons for this.
KEY TO SURVIVAL
Historically, plants have been nothing short of essential to the survival of the human race. We have relied on plants for food, shelter, warmth, and medicine. Plants provide us with universally accepted beauty and interest. Just think of how intertwined plants have been with human civilization. I mean, legends and myths, medicines, religious rites, songs, foods, and cultural customs have all been strongly influenced by (and some exist only because of) plants. Until modern times, nearly all medicine came directly from plants. Even our modern pharmaceuticals are developed largely from chemical compounds originally found in plant life and then synthesized or changed enough to patent.
Getting back to the point – humans and plants have always had a complex and vital relationship and I believe it is evident that our bodies, minds, and hearts know this innately.
“WANT TO GO OUTSIDE?”
I have five children. Have I mentioned that? While each child is quite different, they all had something in common. When each of my children were very small, “outside” was almost always a solution to whatever was upsetting them. Just the mention of the word often quieted them. Even today, my barely-one-year-old completely changed mood when we walk out the door from inside to outside. Just this morning I walked outside with him for a few seconds, then came back in. He became happy walking outside, but cried upon turning around and coming in. Why is that? His little mind and body sensed a difference.
Have you experienced feeling bored or having “cabin fever,” then walking outside only to feel your spirits lift? I certainly have. It has long been known that being outdoors is good for the mind and soul. I believe it is also good for the physical body (for many reasons). So, being that the majority of gardening is typically done outdoors, this is an added bonus (or possibly more central) to the fact that gardening improves mood and mental health.
Gardening is a great way to get the body moving. Digging, raking, planting, and other movements are good exercise. Even those who cannot do more strenuous exercise can have the benefits of physical activity when gardening. Exercise has been greatly studied for its benefits in improving anxiety and depression, as well as many physical health issues.
Gardening offers the perfect opportunity for living intentionally and in the moment. Even those of us who may struggle with
focus or attention in other settings may find that attending to the task at hand while gardening is much less of a challenge. Gardening can provide the opportunity to focus on a simple task without distraction.
A LITTLE BOOST
Growing plants is not a small feat. That is, of course, why I started this website in the first place. I believe that we can learn together how to grow our green thumbs as we grow more and more plants. When we plant seeds, transplant plants, successfully choose a new technique or location for gardening, etc., it boosts our self-esteem. Each of these little triumphs reminds us that we CAN do this thing. Even having the inevitable failures sprinkled into our gardening experience, the learning moments and successes still speak possibilities to us. And seeing healthy plants growing is a great boost to our feeling of self-worth and ability, is it not?
CHANGE OF MOOD
I mentioned earlier about my one-year-old having a complete change of mood going outside. Well, just being around plants (even walking through someone else’s garden or a forrest) has been known to elevate one’s mood. When we focus on our own gardening task, however, it can reduce our own negative thoughts and emotions and replace them with feelings of contentment and peace.
Growth from gardening doesn’t only come in the form of plants. Gardening is a great lesson in letting go of things beyond our control. We all have trouble with control or perfectionism in one way or another. But quite simply put, gardening helps us to learn that there are many inputs we may control, but the outcomes are often beyond our ultimate control. Gardening can teach us to keep trying and not to give up. When we garden, perseverance and acceptance naturally grow alongside our plants.
THE SOCIAL ASPECT
When we choose to garden with others it provides us the added bonus of social activity. We reap positive mental health effects when we grow relationships while growing plants. So grab a friend, a spouse, a child or grandchild and do this together. Maybe there is a community garden you could become involved with, or perhaps you could start one! I wrote recently about neighborhood Victory Gardens. I can’t think of a better way than this to grow relationships and food at the same time! Given the intended purpose of a Victory Garden, there may be other stresses to be relieved as well. [You can read more about Victory Gardens here.]
SOWING AND REAPING
Plants offer us so much. We appreciate their beauty, enjoy their flavors, benefit from their compounds. By surrounding ourselves with plant life we not only sow seeds and reap plants themselves, but we sow effort, time, and intention, while reaping mental health benefits. So, get outside and focus on a task, relax, or simply connect with nature or a neighbor. Your garden just may be your “happy place.”
Let us know what benefits you have experienced through connecting with nature, plants, and gardening. I would love to hear your feedback and experiences!