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Sonoma County Gazette
Gardening for Mental Health

The Power of the Patch:
Gardening and Mental Health

May 22, 2017


Horticultural activities release happy hormones and help us overcome anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

There is something about sweet talking seeds into strong and stately sprouts that refreshes the spirit. But why? More than once, researchers have found that gardening is good for the mind, body, and soul. Today, we explore why gardening has such a positive effect on mental health.

Growing plants gives us a sense of responsibility

Tending a garden gives us a purpose. For people suffering from depression, it offers something to look forward to. Helping something grow into maturity from a seedling gives us a sense of responsibility, which can help mitigate the damaging emotional effects of feeling down and out.

Gardening brings out our inner nurturers

Regardless of whether you are male, female, old, young, gay, or straight, we are all inherently designed to nurture. Gardening is the great equalizer as the plants really don’t care who is doing the work and society (for once) typically doesn’t have an opinion on which demographic is better at growing things. Being able to nurture something from its inception can help people suffering from mental health problems by allowing them to contribute to a transformative activity. This is great for self-esteem and a wonderful and fulfilling activity to do with children and teenagers who may be showing signs of mental health instability.

Getting back in touch with nature helps keep us connected to other living things

Working in the garden serves as a gentle reminder that humans are not the center of the universe, and since self-absorption is one trigger that contributes to depression, focusing on the outdoors can help us see a broader view of things outside of our own emotions. In the early 2000s, a research study determined that gardening was a beneficial activity for those living in in-patient health units and prisons since there was a social aspect involved. Working together to grow a garden helped these people focus on future aspirations instead of their physical or societal flaws.

Gardening can help us relax

Many people turn to gardening as a way to actually separate themselves from social interactions. Gardening allows us to escape from everyday life and from other people. Though a strong support network is vital for those suffering from depression, so too is solitude. Surrounding yourself with flowers and other plants means being separated from familiar distractions. Tending a garden allows us to step away from the hustle and bustle of every day. Moreover, rhythmic tasks associated with agricultural cultivation may help us find an inner flow and focus better on how to approach unpleasant situations. Sigmund Freud may have said it best in his observance that,Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotion nor conflicts.”

Gardening decreases cortisol and increases serotonin production

Obviously, gardening is a wonderful physical activity that can burn calories and make the body stronger. However, the exercise received from working the land can also release serotonin, a neurotransmitter chemical heavily linked to positive mental health. Additionally, gardening encourages stress relief by decreasing cortisol levels.

Digging in the dirt may improve our immune systems

Our ancient forefathers were exposed to many more bacteria than we are today. Many of these, including Mycobacterium vaccae, affect our bodies on a cellular level. They increase the release rates of serotonin and encourage healthy metabolism. Many antidepressant drugs are formulated to boost the body's serotonin production. It is theorized that our relatively sterile living environments have actually knocked our immune systems out of whack by reducing our exposure to these friendly bacteria.

In summary, gardening is not a replacement for the advice given by mental health care professionals. However, getting back to nature may be an effective contributor in the treatment of depression.

Maria Cannon has suffered from depression and anxiety for years. Her hobbies--quilting, sewing, knitting and gardening--play a major role in maintaining her mental health. She believes we’re never too young to dedicate ourselves to ahobby.


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