As it is Mental Health Awareness Week this week (8th-14th May 2017) we thought we’d discuss the effects that gardening can have on people suffering with mental health issues.
It has long been known that gardening and horticulture has a positive effect on our mental health and as such gardening is often used as a mental health intervention as it is shown to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. But what are the some of the reasons behind this?
As well as gardening being a very therapeutic activity, there are lots of added social benefits too. Group gardening is a great way to get people who feel isolated out the house and mixing with other people. The sense of working in a team also focuses on collective skills and ambitions rather than the individual symptoms and shortfalls of each individual.
Although the social side of gardening is beneficial for some others often feel overwhelmed by other people. Gardening is a peaceful activity and this peacefulness helps to tap into the carefree part of the brain, there are no deadlines to meet etc. Along the same lines gardening can help anxiety sufferers to feel in control. “Controlling” people often leads to nowhere, they often don’t want to behave or act as suggested or complete tasks as they should. But in the garden it is much easier to control plants which is a satisfying experience for someone who suffers with a mental health disorder.Gardening also creates a sense of responsibility. It is giving someone the opportunity to learn how to care for another “life”. They also develop appreciation through this notion and a sense of importance as they are helping to keep something alive. This also goes hand in hand with confidence building. Gardening is a nurturing activity which can be a great equaliser for humans. Plants don’t care who looks after them, as long as they are watered and cared for. This really helps boost the self esteem of people who struggle with identity and “fitting in” with other people. Walled and fenced gardens are a really great way to help vulnerable people become more aware of boundaries, both literal and physical. This in turn allows them to feel safe and secure.
Gardening also provides a gentle reminder that we are not central to the universe. In fact this thought of self-absorbtion can often lead to depression, therefore gardening as an activity encourages an individual to be less insular as once again they are having to care for another living thing, thinking about something else rather than themselves. Gardening is also a reminder for people to live in the present, rather thank thinking about the past or willing the future to come around quicker.
Gardening also is a great way of losing excess energy, this enables us to sleep better and also feel more renewed when we awake the next day. Gardening also encourages time outdoors and exercise which has long been known that it is not just god for the body but good for the mind also. Exercise increases the levels of serotonin and dopamine released in the body, these are both “feel good” hormones. Cortisol is a hormone which is associated with stress and when exercising the level of cortisol in the body is known to drop. Also nature releases “happy hormones” into the body too.
If something is currently effecting your mental health, why not give gardening a go to ease some of your symptoms and feelings? Now is a great time of year to get started and it’s a pretty easy activity. You don’t even need a huge area, just a few pots or a hanging basket can easily lift sprits and if you’re concerned you don’t have the funds to get started, you can always recycle and old container, such a colander or tin or cut the top off of a milk bottle.