Jennifer is an environmentalist from Ohio. She is passionate about advocating for the planet and wildlife through gardening and education.
Gardening and Your Mental Health
Spending time in nature can have a tremendous positive impact on your mental health. Gardening, in particular, has been shown to have numerous mental health benefits, from reducing symptoms of mental health disorders and easing stress to helping you to develop a more positive mindset and helping to strengthen social bonds. Spending more time in your garden is sure to make you feel better and give you a sunnier outlook on life.
Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Gardening has been shown to greatly reduce stress response and calm nerves by decreasing the hormone cortisol, which plays a major role in stress response. Working in the garden and nourishing your plants can help increase feelings of calmness and reduce feelings of anxiety.
According to Carol S. Lee, Ph.D. in an article for Anxiety.com, “spending time in nature is associated with increased emotion regulation, decreased neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (the area associated with rumination), and decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety.” What better way to spend time in nature than to create your own natural oasis in your own garden?
Alleviate Depression Symptoms
Though gardening is often regarded as a peaceful hobby, it is also great low-impact physical exercise. Physical exercise releases endorphins, which have been shown help to reduce depression symptoms.
By being outdoors and soaking up the sun while gardening, your body will also be able to produce more vitamin D. Vitamin D synthesizes serotonin, a key neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation and happiness. Increased vitamin D levels have been shown to help ease depression symptoms, especially in seasonal depression
Gardening can also boost your self-esteem. As you watch the food, flowers, and herbs you planted grow and thrive, you will become more confident in your gardening abilities, which can translate directly to more confidence and self-esteem in other areas of your life. The satisfaction you get from gardening can make your feel better about yourself and your abilities in general.
Gardening provides ample opportunities to practice mindfulness. To properly care for your garden, you must be fully present and take notice of the needs of your plants. You are practicing mindfulness when you are fully present in the moment while watering your plants to make sure you don’t over- or underwater them, and while sowing seeds to be sure they are correctly spaced and planted in an area with the best conditions for their species, and even while weeding and staying present in the moment to make sure you are pulling unwanted weeds rather than flowers.
Outside of performing gardening chores, you can practice mindfulness while simply enjoying the garden you have created. Pay attention to the colors, scents, and different textures of your plants. Be present in the moment as you watch the various insects and other forms of wildlife who depend on your garden. Gardening allows you to deeply connect with the world around you and feel connected to the present moment.
Mindfulness practices have been shown to have a positive effect on anxiety and depression symptoms, as well as being beneficial to overall mental health.
Foster Social Interaction
Gardening in social settings, such as in community gardens, has been found to have a significant positive impact on feelings of loneliness and isolation. By participating in community gardens, gardeners have been able to forge new social connections with others who have similar interests, which has been shown to greatly improve mental health outcomes.
If you don’t have access to community gardens, you can still find social interaction with fellow gardeners in your neighborhood. Simply start by creating a garden in your front yard, which is the perfect way to strike up conversations with neighbors passing by who are also interested in gardening. You may even find it rewarding to exchange vegetables or plant cuttings with like-minded neighbors and friends.
Develop a Growth Mindset
Gardening is a great opportunity to develop a “growth mindset.” “Growth mindset” refers to the idea that we are constantly learning, and that when things don’t work out exactly as we had hoped, that we view it as a learning experience rather than a failure. While working in the garden, you are constantly learning something new and experimenting to find out what works best for you. Not everything you plant will grow perfectly, but the setbacks are always great opportunities to learn new techniques. Your garden is constantly growing and changing, just like you, yourself!
Improve Relationship with Food in Eating Disorders
In addition to improving depressive symptoms, growing a vegetable garden can help those with eating disorders to begin to build a healthy relationship with food. The vegetables you grow in your own garden are full of healthy vitamins and nutrients, but more than that, they allow you to deeply connect with the process of cultivating and growing your food so you can feel a greater connection to your food and your body.
The way people in western cultures relate to food in modern society contributes directly to eating disorders, according to Kevin Espiritu from EpicGardening.com:
In the modern West, the proliferation of food and the lack of effort we go to in order to obtain it has led us to subconsciously view it as something of a throwaway resource. Rather than seeing it as important, we instead see it as something disposable and disconnected from our lives, something which we can use or discard as we please.
This attitude has been implicated in the growing prevalence of eating disorders within the West – particularly when combined with body image issues. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses and can be very hard to effectively beat.
Horticultural therapy has proven immensely helpful to many eating disorder sufferers. Not only does it help them to peacefully reconnect with themselves, but it also enables them to build a healthy and beneficial relationship with their food.
Growing your own food lends an enhanced understanding of its importance and role in our lives. This can be deeply healing to one who is used to viewing food based on its effect on outward appearance.
By growing one’s own food, people with eating disorder can reclaim control of their food and body to begin to heal.
- Gardening and Mental Health - American BioSciences, Inc.
Learn about the relationship between gardening and mental health and how being a better gardener can help boost your mood!
- 10 Mental Health Benefits of Gardening | Psychology Today
Few activities are more life-giving.
- Why is gardening so good for your mental and physical health? | Gardening advice | The Guardian
The science behind this classic outdoor mindfulness exercise. By James Wong
- Can Gardening Help Troubled Minds Heal? : The Salt : NPR
Psychiatrists have long claimed that gardens hold healing powers for mental illness. Now, scientists are exploring a new field called horticultural therapy for everyone from troubled youth to veterans. But just how gardens affect the brain remains ma
- Gardening can influence and benefit your mental health
Besides adding appeal to your yard, gardening can significantly improve mental health, according to aTexas A&M AgriLife horticulturalist.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Jennifer Wilber
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on August 25, 2021:
Very useful information with clear pictures. Thanks.