I believe Gardening for mental health and wellbeing certainly is an essential ingredient. As you can see, I am not a psychologist, I am a gardener with more than thirty year of experience.
Horticulture has been used as a therapy for many years, in fact one of my first ever job interviews after qualifying was for working in a nursery alongside people with learning difficulties.
When we talk about mental health and what can bring benefits, gardening is certainly one area.
For those who are gardeners, we may have never considered how gardening contributes to our mental health and wellbeing. For a long time I had taken this for granted without realising the benefits.
Surveys and research have concluded the more gardening you do the more your wellbeing increases. So then, we can firmly say gardening for mental health does make a difference.
Science Direct carried out a survey, which I found very fascinating. For those who spend time in their garden on a daily basis, they are 26% more likely to be happier than those who gardened less frequently.
Likewise, those who consider themselves to be gardeners see themselves happier than people who see themselves as non-gardeners.
So why do people choose to garden and some benefits you might experience?
These emotions and feelings trigger our happy hormone dopamine which increases our levels of feeling happy.
In my experience I have found most people find gardening later in life, often when children have left the home or retirement has come calling.
Yet the simple pleasure and enjoyment of gardening begins when we are small children, fade when we enter our teenage years, flickers a little when we have small children of our own then disappear once again before re-emerging later in life.
The main reason why gardeners work in their garden is to enjoy the pleasure and enjoyment, as a biproduct our metal health and wellbeing improves.
“Every Flower Must Grow Through The Dirt” – Laurie Jean Sennot
The five senses of touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight evoke positive experiences whether in the present or from the past.
Sensory gardens are therapeutic for people suffering from many forms of illness and disabilities.
For example dementia patients the sound of the wind through ornamental grasses or tall trees can bring back happy memories of being by the sea.
Or it could be the touch of soft velvet like foliage bring comfort and security when handled.
The smell of flowers that taste like chocolate or blackcurrants may release pleasurable memories of favourite foods.
Colours play an important part, when using tones of greens, it helps to create relaxing and restful spaces, tones of vibrant colours can stimulate the brain too much and create distressful non relaxing spaces.
There are many, the physical, nutritional, and mental benefits are not always at the top on gardeners list.
They are merely the bi-product from the pleasure and enjoyment that comes from gardening. There’s no better way than to start with some gentle exercise by doing some gardening.
Gardening is a physical activity, when you get the right balance of activities and allocate the right amount of time to those activities you can create your own workout.
Did you know 60 minutes of light gardening can burn off 330 calories more than the equivalent time lifting weights at the gym!
When it comes to improving our nutritional health what better way than to grow some of your own food. It’s fantastic to pick it fresh and eat it fresh whilst boosting your natural immunity at the same time. Home grown food tastes so much better, not to mention how it feels!
Another reason why we garden is coupled with our expression and identity even though we may not consciously recognise this.
For example the garden puts you in control to freely express who you are, with no boundaries or restrictions. I think of gardeners as artists of their own story.
This means that the use of colours, textures, and movement along with the style of garden affects how that makes us feel.
Certainly our personalities play an important part when developing our garden. Generally speaking we are informal or formal and as a rule it is our personality that contributes to what we like and dislike.
In an article I’m going to write soon How To Unmask Your Gardening Style And Be A Winner, you will discover why some of your gardening ideas work whilst others don’t.
The more you garden the more skills and confidence you gain. In time, your self-esteem and self-identity also grows emerging in the way you express yourself through the choices you bring into the garden.
From time to time I have seen clients feel completely useless, show little confidence, and sometimes show low self esteem. I believe that starting early in life can be a great way to develop confidence and self esteem. This article Seeds of Success: gardening with children, ties into my thoughts.
Consequently, having learnt new skills and developed a great understanding. For all of those reasons we begin to shift to the next level in gardening, personal confidence and self-esteem.
Stop, pause and just be still in your garden for one minute. Seriously just do it be in the moment and refresh yourself. Gardening for mental health and wellbeing is not all about doing the activity.
Instead of being indoors just being in the garden can refresh our body from the daily barrage of technology, mobile phones and the daily stresses that come our way.
Starting with the wind blow across your skin, the warmth of the summer sun on your back or the rain on your face and even the cold wind biting on a winter’s day.
As soon as nature touches our senses in this way a moment later the feelings of gratitude and appreciation can raise our wellbeing. Momentarily being alive in the moment and allowing yourself to do this is a wonderful feeling.
Form some people this might feel weird to be in the moment its just you, stopping and pausing!
Go walk bare foot on the lawn, let your fingers run through the soil. Connecting to nature helps us physically and spiritually. I’m sure if you give it a go and not just once but a few times you will feel re-energised and get it too!
There is scientific evidence of a ‘Happy’ bacteria in the soil that can have a positive effect on our mood. Spending just a few minutes being still and, in the moment, can bring you back into a calming and restful state of mind. It may take a bit of practise; you may feel silly the first time you do this but I’m sure it will be worth it. I often did this when studying and I still do it now!
In truth some gardeners just love this activity, I’m sure one of my neighbours thrives on it! The beauty of this type of gardening results in mini wins every time you are out in your garden.
There is a sense of satisfaction, you can see the immediate effects of pruning shrubs, weeding beds and borders, clipping hedges.
It helps people to have a sense of control where they might not have control like at work or even in the home. This can be therapeutic and a good way of grounding oneself.
Broadly speaking, if you live in a community, it often is a way of build relationships with your neighbours. In contrast, if the community environment is mismanaged you may feel a sense of safety and security in your garden oasis.
To sum up it is important in our fast, shifting world to find ways to destress. When the feeling of being stressed out creeps up on you what are you going to do? With this in mind, nothing can be a better antidote than putting on your gardening clothes and heading into the garden.
As a consequence, releasing your stress through physical exercise and breaking free from those triggers, help to bring down your cortisol levels in the body. In this situation your stress levels lower and you move into a more relaxed state of mind.
It is a well-known fact that physical exercise helps to reduce stress and lowers blood pressure. Even just sitting in your gardening after a stress full day certainly can help to bring you into a state of calmness and relaxation.
Just being out in your garden and getting some sun, triggers your body to create vitamin D. This Vitamin helps our bodies to absorb Calcium and calcium keeps our bones strong and supports our immune system.
There is never a better time than the present to live in the moment, recharge our batteries and take up gardening for mental health and wellbeing.
Happy gardening, Kristian