Natural spaces, such as gardens and national parks, have been linked to positive mental health effects. Exposure to nature has been associated with enhanced cognitive function, relaxation, mood, managing trauma, and healing of specific attention deficit disorder symptoms in children. Humans come from nature, and taking the time to get back to nature through gardening and landscaping can be very therapeutic. We all know that it feels good to be out in nature, but what are the therapeutic effects of gardening?
Gardening is Healthy
Gardening is a healthy hobby that anyone with a bit of space can develop and nurture. The early days of Covid-19 pandemic in the United States forced many to stay indoors and not be able to go to work, school, or even the market. The lockdowns led many Americans to pick up their rakes and spades, to engage in something that they may not have taken part in for a while. Many got outdoors and began gardening.
This epidemic’s silver lining has been the increased awareness of family and getting back to the basics of spending time at home with loved ones and nurturing our outdoor space through gardening. When was the last time in recent history that the entire family, both parents, and children, have had the pleasure of staying home and working in the garden together?
Our jobs and busy lifestyle keep many of us only dreaming of a few moments at home with family having a deep discussion about anything other than perhaps re-hashing the daily news. This pandemic has given time for deep thoughts and family projects.
For those who do not have a green space that they can actively garden in, perhaps taking part in a community garden or green space clean-up project can provide similar opportunities to get back to the earth and implement a bit of green therapy.
Working the Earth
For generations, gardeners have been tending their gardens and working the earth in a sort of rudimentary hobby or talent that gets handed down from old to young more out of the need for help than any dream of long-term continuity or a yearning for therapy.
Heading out to the garden expecting a therapeutic value is not the point. The therapeutic part comes from the labor that it takes to transform our land into the state that we want and the satisfaction that comes from the many future triumphs.
I believe that the therapeutic part comes in the stillness and toil that is needed when working with Mother Nature. While co-workers, friends, and family members might be persuaded or guided through force and aggression to bend to our desires, mother nature is not the same.
Mother nature makes the rules, and we all just work within her framework to see what we can accomplish. A hard day of toil and dirt under our fingernails may not be our goal; it is part of the therapy. Giving yourself physically to create the change you want to see is part of the therapy. There is no way around some physical exertion to get your garden into the shape you envision.
Two Different Things
While the therapy happens every time you are working in the yard, the deep calm and satisfaction likely occur when, over time, you finally see the fruits of your labor. Being in nature and working with nature are two different things. While sitting in a park, enjoying the sunshine, and listening to the birds can be relaxing and enjoyable, it is not the same as hiking through the mountains or turning a patch of lawn into a new flower bed. Part of the therapy is in the labor.
Whether one has a few plants on a windowsill, containers arranged on a deck, flower beds in the yard, or a vegetable garden, large or small, gardens have numerous benefits for families and family members. There are many ways that gardening is therapeutic, especially the process involved in landscaping the earth, planting the plants, and watching them grow. Some of the ways that gardening has been therapeutic are as follows:
Outdoor Gardening Helps Fight Disease.
Benefits From the Sun
Human beings share many similarities with plants, one among them is getting benefits from the sun.
While plants produce their food using sunlight, human skin uses sunlight to produce vitamin D in the body. The amount of vitamin D produced is dependent on the amount of sun exposure and the color of the skin—Vitamin D aids in numerous body functions, strengthening bones and the immune system. Low vitamin D levels expose humans to many unfavorable conditions such as dementia, fractures, and rickets. Of course, one must balance the benefits against the risks associated with overexposure to the sun, but a little sunshine in the garden has a therapeutic and healing effect on the body.
Reduction of physiological and psychological stress levels
Working and sitting in the garden can reduce our stress levels, which will reduce our adrenaline levels, leaving us feeling calm and relaxed. Working with plants can be an intuitive and nonverbal action that offers psychological peace and comfort, stimulating a human’s four senses in ways that many of us do not get in our daily lives. Gardening is an overall mood booster that reduces anxiety and depression levels.
Gardening tends to have a positive influence on people’s outlook on life. The hard work and graded accomplishments that one will experience in the garden will increase positive attitude, a sense of pride, and a motivation to do more to step further. Many long-time gardeners have always gone to the garden for relaxation and alone time, but it can also be a great family and friends event, showing the younger generation what it means to work the earth and produce a crop.
Exposure to the natural environment restores a person’s ability to focus on tasks that require high concentration levels. Gardeners often speak of their time in the garden in the same way that others might speak of their yoga or meditation experiences.
Oftentimes a struggle for people in meditation and yoga is to calm and clear their minds in an effort to center themselves. Gardeners have long known that keeping your hands busy in the dirt is a sure way to clear your mind and allow it time to explore subjects that may get pushed aside in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Time to Reflect
Gardening allows time to reflect on the past and plan for the future, not just the future of the garden but the future of your life in general.
While we often feel that our efforts are going unnoticed or that we have wasted days of work where we just didn’t seem to get anything accomplished, a day in the garden always provides the satisfaction of looking back at our work and seeing the results. Also, there is nothing like a full day outside working the earth to invoke a deep and peaceful sleep later that evening.
Gardening is Exercise.
Think about all of the different poses, stretches, and work that goes into gardening. Standing, walking, crouching, kneeling, pushing, pulling, lifting, digging, etc. These are all the types of work that our bodies have been doing for generations prior to our world’s mechanization and computerization. These are the types of things that the settlers of this earth took part in every day out of necessity. There was no such thing as overstimulation or boredom when your entire existence was getting or growing enough food every day to feed the family.
The many bodyweight movements required for gardening closely resemble many of the exercises you might find happening at any fitness club. Exercises such as burpees, farmers carry, deadlift, squats, lunges, pushing, and pulling are all very similar to what a good day in the garden will provide for you. Not only are you taking part in these body movement exercises, which will build muscle and improve flexibility and balance, you are also burning a ton of calories. If more people were avid gardeners, we could cut down on our gym memberships.
Gardening Helps Manage Eco-Anxiety.
Many people feel a certain worry for and anxiousness about the current global pollution and decimation. If they sit down and think about it, most people understand that humans have been mistreating our planet for quite some time now, so they feel a bit of guilt and frustration due to their perceived inability to change anything. Well, gardening and landscaping as a whole can provide a significant step in the right direction when it comes to rebuilding our world.
The work that you are doing to improve your green space can help to improve our environment:
- By planting plants and keeping our gardens lush with greenery, we help remove pollution from both the air and the soil.
- Growing our food helps to minimize our carbon footprint.
- Plants help to shade the earth and reduce evaporation.
- Trees can help shade our houses and protect them from wind, lowering heating and cooling requirements.
- Plants help to stabilize the soil and prevent erosion.
- Our green space is the home for many animals.
The complex concept coined as eco- anxiety has many feeling helpless, but not the gardeners; the gardeners can rest easy, knowing that they have done their part to help our earth. It’s a pretty simple concept, actually; the greener our earth, the healthier it is, so your gardening efforts are definitely helping.
To maximize the amount that you are helping, you can do the following things:
- Use only organics in your yard. Organics add to our soil diversity and reduce chemical pollution.
- Layer organic mulches and composts rather than tilling.
- Try to minimize your waste in all aspects of your life.
- Save your rainwater to irrigate your plants.
- Use hand tools rather than motorized tools.
- Compost as much household waste as possible and use it to enhance your garden soil.
- Look into designating your yard as a “Certified Wildlife Habitat.”
- Encourage family, friends, and neighbors to garden.
It is a curious phenomenon that humans tend to avoid hard work and toil out of a perceived need to keep our bodies in a perpetual low-key and relaxed state. Somewhere along the line, we have been taught that hard work is bad and sloth is good. While staying at rest is always the easy choice, I don’t believe it is the best. Our bodies need to get out and move. We aren’t built to be still. While it may be hard to get started, working outside in the garden will prove to be very therapeutic overall, offering countless health benefits for you and your friends and family as well.
Whether digging, weeding, hauling, or plucking flowers, your physical strength, emotional wellbeing, and immune systems will reap the benefits. Gardening cultivates positive feelings of empowerment, connection, calmness, and appreciation for a beautifully landscaped garden. Whether the patch is tiny, medium, or huge, a raised bed, a window box, or a single garden pot, getting dirty and enjoying the natural setting is therapeutic in every sense. Gardening is the perfect way to heal therapeutically, regardless of age, time, space, or environment setting.
Get out there today and start your garden!