We’re lucky to live in a time when mental health can be an open discussion and has less stigma, and if we need help, there are many options to pursue. Depression and anxiety are among the most common mental health issues many of us face. While there are several different forms of therapy and ways to feel better over time, one lesser-known treatment happens to be our favourite afternoon activity: gardening! As it turns out, spending time in the garden has powerful, proven benefits for our mental health and wellness.
The Psychology of Gardening: How Cultivating Plants Benefits Your Brain
Don’t believe us? Here are some major breakthroughs in gardening and mental health, proven by leading psychologists and doctors.
Time Outside Improves Focus
All that time spent at your desk and staring at the computer isn’t good for your brain. Breaking up the work day with time in the garden can have fast-acting benefits. Being outside in nature and tending to your plants can clear brain fog and make it easier to focus on “deep work”—zeroing in on one major task at a time, devoting your full attention.
Studies have shown that gardening and playing outside can actually lessen the severity of ADHD symptoms. ADHD isn’t a lack of attention—it’s a dysregulation in attention due to lower dopamine levels in the brain. What’s a simple, natural way to get that feel-good chemical dopamine to surge in the brain? Gardening!
Developing a Growth Mindset
Psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck explains how people often have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset tend to view difficult situations negatively—for example, one might break their toe and exclaim that their whole summer is ruined because they can’t go swimming. People with growth mindsets tend to look at the positives—while you may not be able to swim with a cast, it’s an opportunity to finally read all those books you’ve been stacking up on the shelf.
Training your mind to change the way you think about negative situations is a big part of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), and it’s an incredibly powerful practise for overcoming depression. Dr. Dweck says gardening is a fantastic way to put your growth mindset into practice. You may encounter garden pests, storms and floods, or other issues that may derail your progress, but every challenge you encounter is making you a better gardener, more able to overcome whatever curveballs life throws at you.
Measurable Mental Health Benefits
A Japanese study hooked up participants to an EEG and had them look at plants. They observed a significant reduction in stress, anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, and physical changes like reduced blood pressure, pulse rate, and muscle tension. Simply immersing yourself in greenspace has powerful effects on your wellness—it can even speed up healing after a surgical procedure!
Powerful Mood-Enhancing Microbes
It might sound too good to be true, but the benefits of contact with soil microbes are proven by science! Research shows that some soil microbes have effects comparable to Prozac—a common antidepressant medication. Time outside getting your hands dirty in the ground can help introduce beneficial microbes into your system. Plus, enjoying some bright sunshine and healthy garden veggies certainly doesn’t hurt!
Gardening is Exercise
Physical inactivity is a leading cause of a wide range of physical and mental illnesses. Gardening is an incredible way to move your body and stretch. Have you ever spent an afternoon pulling weeds? It’s like yoga! You crouch, bend, reach, and contort your body into shapes, strengthening your arms and core. It’s great for your body, and your brain—studies even show that gardening is more effective than walking or reading in preventing worsening dementia symptoms!
Gardening benefits your self-image, too! Spending time cultivating something beautiful, thriving, and unique is an incredibly rewarding experience. Nurturing plants helps ease that tension—we can let our guard down and embrace our soft side. There’s no need to be perfect while you garden, and perfectionism can have detrimental effects on our mental health. Just enjoy yourself, be mindful of your surroundings, and take time to enjoy the little things.
What are you waiting for? Invest in the future of your mental health and begin the practice of cultivating your own garden. You’ll love the sense of peace and respite it brings to your busy lifestyle. Visit Mother Nature Garden Centre today to begin your journey in gardening in British Columbia.