How Gardening Can Treat Depression And Anxiety
Getting your hands dirty may not be for everyone, but there are some real benefits to gardening that often are overlooked. Aside from just being able to appreciate watching things grow that you’ve helped along the way, there is actually evidence to suggest that gardening provides measurable benefits to people across time and improves their wellbeing! So, if you’ve been admiring flowers and plants from afar, it may be time to consider getting down in the dirt yourself!
Benefits of Gardening
Believe it or not, having little to no time in nature can actually be detrimental to your health. Humans were not meant to be sitting inside a cubicle with no sunlight for their entire day. Some say that gardening can actually be thought of as preventive medicine. As the research article linked above demonstrates, regular contact with nature can improve a person’s overall wellbeing in a variety of ways.
Benefits of gardening can include;
- Improving depression/anxiety symptoms
- Reduction in body mass index (BMI) for an overall healthier weight
- Increase in life satisfaction
- Increase in quality of life
- Improved sense of community/connection with other people
Why is Gardening Helpful?
Aside from the practical benefit of growing your own food, there are actually neurobiological reasons that gardening makes people feel good. This means that as you garden, certain “feel good” chemicals are actually release in your brain. These chemicals include serotonin and dopamine.
Contact with soil and certain specific bacteria actually release serotonin in the brain, which can help to decrease depression symptoms. One of these bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae, creates a chemical response much like that of taking an antidepressant like Prozac! It feels good to work with your hands! Consider working in your garden without gloves if you can. The sensory experience itself can be very grounding and connect you to your surroundings. Gardening invites this present moment experience: to interact with the essential elements.
Also, when you literally reap the benefits of your garden and harvest vegetables for example, dopamine is released in your brain. You feel good about what you’ve helped to create and maintain. This can be referred to as a “gardener’s high” in a sense. For example, you can get a boost from just seeing a pepper bud and grow, even before you actually pick it. It’s okay to feel good about and take pride in the hard work and time you have put into a project like your garden.
Sense of Purpose
Lastly, just knowing that you have living things in your own space can be healing—not to mention it gives you the responsibility of taking care of them. Sometimes this extra sense of purpose can be so powerful to people who are going through rough times or experience isolation. Appreciating and caring for living things that make our planet function can be an enriching practice and hobby.
Getting Started in Gardening for your mental health
If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of starting a new hobby, start small! If you don’t want to devote a large space in your yard to a garden or you don’t want to do a lot of new landscaping, that is totally fine. The benefits of gardening are still accessible to you, even if it’s not feasible for you to turn your own space into a giant oasis. You might want to consider starting with a small raised garden bed, or if you’re handy, building your own! You can even start with potted plants placed on your porch or deck if your space doesn’t allow for something larger. Remember, even window gardens can be beneficial if you don’t have outdoor space available to you; you get to bring some of nature inside! No matter the size of the yard or living space you have available, you can still find many ways to venture into being a gardener.
How to choose the right plants for your space
Figure out what exactly it is that you’re interested in starting with. This could include herbs, vegetables, or flowers; do some research to find out what to start with and what space is most conducive to that. If you have a smaller space, you may want to start with herbs, for example. There are plenty of gardening starter kits on Amazon, but we also encourage you to talk to a fellow gardener in your life! Whether that’s a close friend, or someone you know gardens that you’re connected with on Facebook.
The sense of community among gardeners is beneficial as well. Nudge yourself to be part of it. Not sure how to connect with kindred spirits? Check out your local nursery and strike up a conversation with the people there. They can be a fantastic resource in helping you find the right plants for your lighting and soil conditions, as well as the time and temperament you have for raising plants. Locally, the Penn State Cooperative Extension is a fantastic resource to help you not just learn how to make things grow but also to test your soil and offer classes to become a “Master Gardener.” What are some beginner plants that are easy to grow and tend while reaping the mental benefits of gardening? Here are a few to start with:
Gardening starter plants to manage your mental health
- Snap peas
Remember to do some research regarding how much or how little water a particular plant may need as well as sunlight and soil information. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to figure out if the space you have is going to be suitable for a particular plant to thrive! A perennial flower is one that lasts for a long time (comes back year after year). Check our resources section below for a link to a list of some to check out that may grow well in Western Pennsylvania. Try to not have the expectation that you will be a perfect gardener, view this as learning experience and an opportunity for growth (pun intended).
Our therapists love to garden!
While gardening can certainly provide a boost in mood and overall wellbeing, and may be a great practice for you to pick up, extra emotional support may also be of benefit to you. If you think you may need some ongoing help with managing stress or increasing your overall wellbeing, an Angelus therapist can help you toward your goals. Call today to make an appointment and we will help connect you with the right therapist for you.