I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more
— John Burroughs
Spring is here! What better way to welcome the spring by getting active in your garden! Some of you may already be avid gardeners, whilst others would never have dreamed of tending to the garden. It may not be general knowledge, but gardening can be very therapeutic and beneficial for your mental health.
Caring for plants is a good way to learn responsibility for other living things and gain an appreciation for even the smallest of living things. This is because gardening ignites the nurturers in all of us. If we find ourselves being able to nurture and care for a small plant and visibly see the positive effects, then we may be more conscious of nurturing and minding ourselves and our health. Individuals with mental health difficulties such as depression or anxiety can often have low self-esteem and lack a sense of purpose in life. Giving the job of caring and nurturing a plant can give someone with mental health difficulties this sense of purpose and provides a boost of self-esteem.
In order to engage your green fingers, you don’t need a big space or even a garden. By even watering a potted-plant on the windowsill this still gives you a sense for caring for something and it only takes 2 minutes of your day.
However, if you don’t think getting out and gardening is your thing, even having a view of a garden can promote healing. In a study by Ulrich in Science, it was hypothesised that a hospital room with a garden view could influence a patient’s emotional state and could affect recovery. Patients who stayed in hospital rooms that overlooked a garden and tree were reported to have shorter postoperative recovery and required fewer moderate and strong painkillers. So even having a view of a garden can have a positive impact on your mood and health.
Another way gardening can improve your mental health is because it lets us tap into the carefree element of our personalities, with no pressures, deadlines, or expectations. Gardening is a form of self-expression and creativity. Gardening engages all of our senses, not just the sights, sounds and smells, but also touch too. Even the colours can bring about a sense of calmness.
Gardening can also support our relationships with others, thus enhancing our sense of well-being. Often, we garden with people – this encourages team work and promotes open dialogue. This open-dialogue can support our ability to talk to others about things such as mental health if required.
By being out in the garden we are out in the fresh air and engaging in exercise. When we exercise, dopamine (the feel-good hormone) and serotonin levels increase and cortisol levels drop. This can reduce our stress levels and help us feel calmer and in more control. Gardening as a form of exercising can leave you feeling tired so you sleep better and sleep can help boost your mood.
However, gardening isn’t all light and fluffy. You can use gardening to unleash your anger and power. Pulling up weeds is a great way to unleash pent up frustration and emotions in a physical way. This can help individuals with anger, frustration and anxiety release these emotions in a healthy way.
Finally, gardening allows us a chance to be mindful. When we garden, we are focusing purely at the task at hand. We do not think of the past, or the future but only the present. This state of mind provides a sense of stillness which allows us to appreciate the present moment.
By Nicola Keane, Assistant Psychologist