Gardening can be a satisfying activity with many practical benefits. Your house looks beautiful with plants and flowers growing all around it, and some flowers can be cut and brought indoors to decorate your living room or be used as a centerpiece on your kitchen table.
Another practical benefit of gardening is fresh fruits and vegetables to eat and serve to your family. When you grow your own food, you know where it comes from and what it contains. There can be no hidden chemicals or pesticides in homegrown produce. Usually, the flavor of vegetables you grow in your own garden is better than those you buy at the store, too.
Effects of Gardening on Mental Health
For some, gardening is a seasonal ritual that brings joy as well as beauty to their home. Veteran gardeners will tell you there is something about getting their hands in the dirt that makes them happy. And even during a particularly dry summer, you will see them out there battling the elements to nurture their plants to maturity.
Gardening is one activity that is proven to improve mental health for several reasons:
Physical activity: Gardening is a physical exercise that gets you moving, walking, lifting and bending. There is no way to garden from your armchair — you have to move around. Physical activity gets your circulation going and increases your respiratory rate, bringing more oxygen to your cells.
Gardening is the exercise you can do without dragging yourself to the gym or buying fancy workout gear. In a pair of old shorts and a t-shirt, you trudge out to your garden everyday and breathe in fresh air in the sunlight. This type of physical activity is a natural stress reducer and mood enhancer.
Sense of responsibility: Nurturing your plants through the entire growing season is a responsibility gardeners take seriously. Whether you raise them from seeds, buy tiny starter plants or watch perennials sprout out of the ground each Spring, gardening is a responsibility for another living thing. You worry when your plants don’t do well and you beam with pride to show off the results. Taking responsibility for something outside of yourself can get you out of your head and improve your mental health.
One common issue with mental health problems is ruminating or obsessing that can create a downward spiral. Taking care of the plants in your garden gets you out of those old thought patterns and help you focus on something productive.
Connection with the earth: Gardening connects you with the earth and other living elements of the natural world. This connection can add perspective to our human existence that improves mental health. It reminds you that we are not the center of the universe and do not have to accomplish all things. Humans have a place in the world, but the earth is much bigger than any one of us.
Gardening can help to test your boundaries and remain safe within the confines of your patio, your yard or the neighborhood where you live. It can also give you the power to confront and overcome certain anxieties.
Reminder of the cycle of life: Each season you witness your garden go through the complete cycle of life from birth to death, and then it renews itself with your help the following season. Being part of this shorter life cycle can show you the purpose of completing the circle. Death and loss can develop into a lingering depression that is not healthy.
Taking part in the renewal of the lifecycle can help you see death as a part of a larger process and that can help you move past the depression. Gardening reminds you that life is a cycle of growing and dying and growing again. It can also inspire you to look for the next up-turn in your life, remembering that there will be one.
Sense of accomplishment: Every day you accomplish something in gardening. Whether you are planting seeds, weeding around plants or watering a feeding the garden, you can see what you accomplish with your hard work. Having a sense of accomplishment contributes to a positive self-esteem.
Your feelings of success in completing your gardening tasks and your overall feeling or pride when your flowers bloom or your vegetables mature show you that you have abilities. You are capable of getting things done and creating beauty. That sense of accomplishment will translate into increased self-esteem and improved mental health.
If you have gardened before, you may notice it makes you feel good even if you are not sure why. These are just a few of the reasons to continue gardening to prolong or renew the positive impact on your mental health.
Mental Health Gardening Therapy
Gardening has been shown to improve mental health, speed healing from substance abuse, and reduce depression. Going outside and putting your hands in the dirt can reduce anxiety and promote positive thinking and inner tranquility.
At Brookhaven Retreat, gardening therapy can be part of your recovery program if you like. You are welcome to tend the gardens at Brookhaven on your own or sign up to be part of a gardening group. The experience will show you the gifts gardening can bring to your mental well-being if you have never tried it before. For those who are experienced gardeners, you have an opportunity at Brookhaven to get back to this healing activity.