I truly geek out over gardening. I love the prepping of the dirt, the labor that goes into weeding, raking, roto-tilling. I love the smell of the amended soil. The daily watering, the harvest, the clean up. I seriously love it all. I think the reason I come back to gardening every spring is the way gardening makes me feel. My favorite thing to do when I come home from an all nighter, think mid July, is to go out to my garden, turn on the water and walk around. I observe the changes that took place while I was gone and feel the sense of peace knowing everything is thriving.
Gardening has a way of connecting people back to the earth by lowering our cortisol levels, stress hormones. Check out this article below. Maybe building mini station gardens, (flowers, vegetables, fruit trees) would benefit us more than just our station meals? Maybe they would become our focal point for decompression, relaxation, and a place where we could share our harvest with the community?
Petal Power: Why Is Gardening So Good For Our Mental Health?10 ways horticulture helps us heal, overcome anxiety and lift low mood
Posted May 13, 2015
By: Sarah Rayner
"Time and again research reveals that gardening has a positive effect on our mental health, so let's explore what it is that seems to make horticulture so healing.
Source: Sarah Rayner1. Looking after plants gives us a sense of responsibility.
I remember when my mother gave me a little spot in our garden to tend. I must have been about five. I demarcated it with stones and planted forget-me-nots and ‘poached eggs' flowers that still make me smile.
Source: Eric Rayner, used with permissionHaving to care for plants is a good way to learn to look after and respect other living things and when we are small it helps develop an appreciation of the magic of nature.
2. Gardening allows us all to be nurturers.
It doesn’t matter if we are seven or seventy, male, female or transgender, gardening underlines that we are all nurturers. Horticulture is a great equalizer: plants don’t give a fig who is tending them and for those with mental health problems to be able to contribute to such a transformative activity can help boost self-esteem.
3. Gardening keeps us connected to other living things.
Gardening can act as a gentle reminder to us that we are not the centre of the universe. Self-absorption can contribute to depression, and focusing on the great outdoors – even in the pared-down form of a patio – can encourage us to be less insular.
As long ago as 2003, research concluded that for those in mental health units and prison, the social nature of group gardening is beneficial because it centers on collective skills and aspirations rather than individual symptoms and deficits. Yet to dig and delve in a walled or fenced garden also helps to keep vulnerable people within boundaries both literally and metaphorically, allowing them to feel safe at the same time as they expand their horizons.
article continues after advertisement4. Gardening helps us relax and let go.
For many the peacefulness associated with gardening comes not from its social aspect however, but the opposite. It enables us to escape from other people. ‘Flowers are restful to look at. They have no emotions or conflict,’ said Freud. Tending to plants allows us to tap into the carefree part of ourselves with no deadlines, mortgage or annoying colleagues to worry about.
Source: Sarah RaynerMoreover, the rhythmic nature of many tasks associated with horticulture – weeding, trimming, sowing, sweeping – allows thoughts to ebb and flow along with our movements. I often take to watering the plants in my patio when trying to untangle the knots in plots or characterization that can arise when writing a novel, and all too often the solution comes to me far more easily there than if I sit staring and despairing at my screen. The competing thoughts inside my head somehow clear and settle, and ideas that are barely formed take shape.
5. Working in nature releases happy hormones.
To say that gardening encourages us to exercise and spend time outdoors might seem a statement of the obvious, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that what’s good for the body is also good for the mind. When I’m deeply immersed in writing it can be all too easy to forget this, but when we exercise levels of serotonin and dopamine (hormones that make us feel good) rise and the level of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress), is lowered. It’s true that a session in the garden can be tiring, but it can also get rid of excess energy so you sleep better and ultimately feel renewed inside.
article continues after advertisementSource: Sarah Rayner6. Being amongst plants and flowers reminds us to live in the present moment.
As I explain in my little book on anxiety, 'when we let go of ruminating on the past or worrying about the future and instead focus on the here and now, anxiety lessens’. So one of the best ways to calm the anxious mind and lift mood is to become more ‘present’. Next time you’re in a garden, pause for a few moments and allow yourself to be aware of your senses.
Listen. Touch. Smell. See.
Just a short time experiencing the fullness of nature like this can be very restorative.
7. Gardening reminds us of the cycle of life, and thus come to terms with that most universal of anxieties: death.
Source: Sarah RaynerRituals can help us work through difficult emotions, including grief, and gardening is a form of ritual involving both the giving of life and acknowledgement of its end; it's symbolic of regeneration. It’s no coincidence we create gardens of remembrance and mark the scattered ashes and graves of our loved ones with roses, shrubs and trees; by doing so we’re acknowledging that from dust we all come and to dust we return.
article continues after advertisement8. Some aspects of gardening allow us to vent anger and aggression...
Clearly then, horticulture is not all sweetness and light: nature has its dark side too. In a similar vein, some of the therapeutic power of gardening is that it allows us to unleash our anger and aggression as well as providing an opportunity to nurture. Why beat pillows with a baseball bat or yell at the cat when you have a hedge to hack? I confess there are times when I enjoy cutting and chopping and yanking and binding as much, if not more, than sowing and feeding and watering, and the great thing about destructiveness in the garden is that it's also connected to renewal and growth – if you don't cut back the plants, your space will be swamped by them.
9. ...whilst others allow us to feel in control.
In a similar vein, anxious people often feel overwhelmed, and gardening can be a good way of gaining a sense of control. Moreover, whereas trying to control other people is invariably a fruitless exercise, you’re more likely to succeed in controlling your beds and borders, which can make gardening a particularly satisfying experience.
10. Last but not least, gardening is easy.
When it comes to growing things, for all its power of healing, the world of plants can feel intimidating to an outsider. If you’re new to gardening you may well be anxious you won’t have ‘green fingers’ and here, as with all new ventures: starting small is key."
Rayner, Sarah. 2015. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/worry-and-panic/201505/petal-power-why-is-gardening-so-good-our-mental-health
Beyond the Gear is a informational place where firefighters and their families can read and take steps at living a healthier life. Healthy body starts with a healthy mind. I hope you enjoy.