When confronted with mental health issues, many turn toward medication and dismiss the effectiveness of holistic activities.
The garden and other green spaces are an underutilised instrument when it comes to optimising mental health for anyone.
This was particularly visible during the pandemic when many turned their gaze toward the outdoors as a place to find solace among crises.
Our natural instincts were to escape to the outdoors and find lush greenery and fresh air.
Those involved with Gardening and Health Week at the National Garden Scheme conducted a survey titled ‘The importance of our gardens and outdoor spaces during lockdown’.
This survey discovered that over 2,400 people found that access to gardens or green spaces was vital for looking after their mental health during lockdown.
Whether people took up running, went for walks, or got creative with their gardens, the outdoor environment is one that can revitalise your state of mind and help you find peace, joy and purpose.
With Gardening and Health Week around the corner, there has never been a more appropriate time to share the benefits of gardening and exploring green spaces.
Despite the worst of the pandemic being behind us, its many devastating effects are still prevalent.
Additionally, mental struggles are rife with or without a pandemic.
One concern people may have is that they don’t have their own private gardens.
Many people who struggle with mental health issues or addiction can feel trapped in the urban sprawls of a city.
However, you don’t need to worry.
The National Garden Scheme (which helps facilitate Gardening and Health Week) has tools that make it easy to find public gardens near your location.
Additionally, you can even volunteer if you would like to contribute your efforts towards other gardening spaces.
Furthermore, if you would like to take part in something smaller, indoor plants can not only help spice up your home’s aesthetics but can prove to be physically and psychologically enriching.
Active interaction with indoor plants can reduce anxiety, depression and insomnia.
So, let’s dive into the physical and mental health benefits of gardening.
Many of these points are applicable to those that don’t necessarily have their own private garden but have access to nearby green spaces, and they aren’t confined to Gardening and Health Week in May.
It is not often that you can combine personal hobbies with invaluable mental benefits.
However, gardening can help you feel an immense sense of achievement without feeling like you’re committing to a difficult or tedious task.
While it is by no means easy to master the art of gardening, doing something which excites you while presenting obstacles can help you overcome feelings such as anxiety or depression due to focusing on the task at hand.
Completing whatever gardening objectives you have won’t give you relief like other chores or errands will, it will fill you with a huge sense of achievement.
This is because whether you’re growing trees, plants or food, it is a monumental achievement.
You are able to visibly see your progress through tangible vegetation or growth which then encourages you further.
Someone who is growing plants will be thrilled to see that their very own plant is a visually pleasing addition in their garden.
Someone growing food, for example, could literally reap the fruits of their labour by consuming and tasting their achievements from the garden.
Therefore, gardening can be considered to be a form of goal oriented therapy.
This style of therapy is also referred to as behavioural activation therapy.
Based on a psychological model of behavioural change, behavioural activation therapy can help people overcome feelings of anxiety and depression which often debilitate people’s social lives and personal pursuits.
Anxiety and depression not only prevents people from pursuing personal or social interests, but it actively encourages isolation.
This can lead to further problems, such as relationship breakdown and the further deterioration of mental health.
Behavioural activation can help prevent this dangerous cycle from taking place by encouraging people to be more active and to participate in activities more.
Furthermore, behavioural activation can increase eudaimonic well being.
Eudaimonic wellbeing is associated with self-actualisation and feeling a sense of purpose.
A big problem associated with mental health issues is that many of us aren’t able to control our emotions or perceptions of certain things that happen in our lives.
Suffering often comes from things that we can’t control, and many people are unable to control their emotions when things go wrong in life.
We can’t expect to have an easygoing life if we’re burdened with constant vexation and frustration.
Gardening can help us practise patience and acceptance.
Gardening is not exempt from obstacles, and it helps us come to terms with things going wrong in life.
Whether you make a mistake or if the weather isn’t favourable, gardening can help you practice patience and acceptance.
Rather than trying to be a perfectionist, gardening should be a journey of trial and error.
How will you overcome something if you don’t correct mistakes?
Gardening can help you be patient with progress and control your emotions when things appear to be going the other way.
Do not underestimate the mental benefits of exercise.
Exercise can help your body release dopamine and endorphins, aka the ‘feel good hormones’.
These can then decrease feelings of anxiety and depression, and promote:
Similarly, you should not underestimate the physical exercise of gardening.
Gardening is a fantastic option for those that aren’t interested in the ‘traditional’ form of exercise such as going to the gym or playing football.
The digging, planting and constant manoeuvring make gardening a form of exercise which is low-impact and provides a moderate cardiovascular workout.
Gardening and Health week places heavy emphasis on the physical benefits of gardening.
It is estimated that 30 to 45 minutes of gardening can burn up to 300 calories.
However, the benefits of exercise go way beyond burning calories.
Gardening prevents a sedentary lifestyle, reduces the risk of obesity, diabetes or high blood pressure and promotes general physical health.
Despite Garden and Health week being celebrated in May, gardening (and general exercise) should be encouraged throughout the year due to its physical and mental benefits.
However, just as with any other exercises, gardeners must take precaution.
The NHS recommends that those that suffer from backaches should bend from the knees (not the back), wear knee pads, or use long-handled tools to prevent further injury.
Another aspect of gardening that promotes good physical and mental health is the fact that if gardeners are growing food, they won’t be growing sweets or chocolate, they will be growing fruits and vegetables.
This encourages healthy habits and clean eating, which can further reduce issues related to physical and mental health.
Eating clean has a profound effect on our mental health.
Poor diets can lead to feelings of fatigue and lethargy, as well as an increase of inflammation throughout our body.
This can then lead to more stress and mood disorders.
As cliche as it sounds, food is like fuel, and if we eat clean, our physical and mental health will be optimised.
Studies have shown that spending more time outdoors, whether in our garden or elsewhere, generates positive emotions and reduces the effects of poor mental health.
Being connected with nature can increase our well-being and reduce any feelings of stress.
Therefore, gardening can be considered to be a form of ecotherapy or green therapy.
Both are forms of therapy that take place outdoors, completing activities in natural green environments.
Some clinical psychologists advocate the use of nature as therapy because it fosters healing and growth nurtured by healthy interaction with the earth.
Being connected to your natural surroundings also promotes environmental stimuli.
This refers to embracing your surroundings by activating your senses.
Whether you are seeing the bountiful vegetation, hearing twittering birds, or smelling blooming flowers, you get a positive interaction with nature due to these sensory stimulations.
It is also believed that eco-grief is something that can affect people mentally who are eco-conscious.
If someone is worried about unsustainability and pollution, they can act by making a difference from their own garden.
By defending the natural habitats of their home or community, they will feel a sense of positivity and pride by fulfilling their duty.
Because of these reasons, it is imperative that we spend time outdoors throughout the year, not just during Gardening and Health Week.
Being in the sun provides a myriad of physical and mental benefits.
Firstly, gardeners will experience an increase in Vitamin D levels.
The sun is one of the best and most natural forms of Vitamin D intake, and this can promote and maintain healthy bones.
Low Vitamin D levels are associated with illnesses such as osteoporosis.
Secondly, soaking up the sun can ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that is associated with seasonal changes.
People commonly experience Seasonal Affective Disorder during the winter when it is colder and there is less sunlight throughout the day.
Light therapy is a common form of treatment for those that suffer from this disorder, but gardening is also effective.
Thirdly, sunlight early in the morning can promote a healthy sleep schedule.
It has a profound effect on the circadian rhythm, which affects our happiness, alertness, cognitive function and other aspects which have the ability to improve our quality of life.
Just like a blank canvas, the garden allows gardeners to be creative.
Just like how an artist uses a paintbrush, gardeners have their own tools to personalise their natural green space.
Gardeners who have their own gardens have creative authority.
They can choose whether their garden has flowers or trees, ponds or birdhouses, or whether it is a place for socialising or a place for peace.
By exercising choice, they are exercising control and independence.
Whether gardeners want to take inspiration from neighbours or gardens over the internet, or whether they want to be entirely independent, they have self-autonomy in their decision making.
The garden can be seen as a project which is ever-changing due to new inspirations and the constantly changing weather.
It is easy to assume that gardeners won’t be short on ideas or activities throughout the year, let alone Gardening and Health Week.
The garden can also offer a safe space for people.
It can be an environment where social, academic or occupational-related stress can be supplemented in favour of alone time in the natural environment.
Spending some time alone, whether in nature or within the walls of your own home, allows you to focus on yourself.
You are free from external judgements or responsibilities which can feel liberating and refreshing.
The garden can act as someone’s sanctuary to which the gardener only has access to it.
On the other hand, gardening can also be an excellent social activity.
Whether or not avid gardeners have their own private gardening space, they can still garden in a community garden or a friend’s garden.
By gardening with others, it promotes social stimulation which can be beneficial for mental health.
This is because social interaction can build community cohesion and provide social reinforcement and support for those that may feel lonesome.
The benefits of gardening are limitless.
It has been proven time and time again that spending time in our gardens or green spaces will benefit our mental and physical health in more ways than one.
This is evident by our response to the pandemic, where our natural instincts were to venture outside to find rejuvenation.
However, it’s important to sustain this idea that the garden provides a sanctuary for many.
While Gardening and Health Week (May 7th-15th) is imperative for advocating the many benefits of gardening, it is important that we share the mental and physical benefits of gardening throughout the year.
If you are without a garden, do not fret.
You can reap the many benefits of gardening by exploring green spaces, using tools to find public gardens or volunteering in your local area.