Editor’s Note – The garden can be a great place to find relief from anxiety, depression, and other mental health related issues. Read this guest post from Liz Greene to find out more.
Living with an anxiety disorder can be incredibly irritating. It can also be a waking nightmare. On my best days, I feel as if my friends are mad at me, my boss secretly hates me, and everyone around me thinks I’m annoying. I second guess every single interaction and replay moments over and over in my head, dwelling on what I should have said or done.
My worst days…well, they’re usually spent in tears. You know that feeling when you miss a step, or when you tip a little too far back in your chair and you think you’re going to fall — that horrid swooping feeling in your stomach, followed by white hot adrenaline? I feel like that all the time.
I deal with this condition by taking medication, seeing a therapist, and keeping a rigid routine. I also spend time in the garden.
Out in the Garden
Gardening is relatively new to me. I didn’t get my hands in the dirt for the first time until I took horticulture during my junior year of high school. It was easily the best part of the day; the whole world would slow down and I’d find myself living completely in the moment. The smell of soil, the warmth of the sun in the greenhouse, the satisfaction that came with growing and nurturing plants.
Tending tomatoes in my backyard offers the same joy I felt as a teenager in the greenhouse, only now I’m in charge of what I grow and how I grow it. This extra level of control is incredibly helpful in managing my anxiety.
While it might be easy to shrug this all off as something that may only serve me, you’d be hard-pressed to ignore the fact that the mental health benefits of gardening are well known throughout the scientific community. There’s even a branch of psychotherapy known as horticultural therapy, wherein psychologists work with patients engaged in gardening and plant-based activities to achieve specific treatment goals.
But what is it about gardening that betters a person’s mental health?
Why Gardening is Good for Mental Health
A study from the Oxford Journal of Public Health that followed a group of allotment gardeners found that even one session in the garden improved self-esteem, mood, and general health. The study also revealed that allotment gardeners in general experienced less depression and fatigue, and more vigor.
Improved self-esteem and mood aside, there are other ways gardening can give our mental health a boost.
A Means of Escape
For anxious introverts like myself, time spent alone is necessary in order to remain sane. Much of the peacefulness I associate with gardening comes from its ability to function as a solitary activity, or a way to escape from other people. Gardening offers a means to push aside the things that cause worry — such as deadlines, bills, and toxic colleagues — and just focus on the needs of the plants.
Something to Nurture
Humans are nurturers. You see it in our drive to have children, pets, and yes, even plants. For those with mental health problems, contributing to a transformative activity like gardening can help boost self-esteem. The type of garden grown can have different effects on mood — for instance, vegetable and fruit producing plants strengthen feelings of self-sufficiency, while growing flowers to sustain pollinator populations generates a feeling of purpose.
To Induce Calm
While a lot of the understanding behind exactly how gardening affects the mind is still stumping scientists, what they do know is that it decreases cortisol, a hormone involved in the stress response. Therefore, spending time in the garden can reduce stress and calm the nerves.
I absolutely love my garden, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. However, I know that alone, it isn’t enough to keep my anxiety in check — that’s why I continue to use a combination of treatments in order to stay healthy.
If you’re suffering from anxiety, consider growing a garden. You can start small, with one or two plants in containers, or you can go big and plant a backyard paradise. Whatever you choose, your mental health will in all likelihood see a boost.
Liz Greene is a makeup enthusiast, rabid feminist, and an anxiety-ridden realist from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can follow her latest misadventures on her blog, Instant Lo.