Mental Health: the Overlooked Crisis and the Benefits of Gardening by Maria Cannon
Living in the modern world has lots of advantages. Medicine has conquered many diseases. Technology gives us smartphones and the Internet. Economic progress enables us to enjoy higher incomes and more interesting careers. In many ways, we’re better off than those who came before us.
Some of the changes over the past 100 years offer us little reason to cheer, however. Many in today's society seem to think that the answer to our problems is to just take a pill. This is a deadly misconception, as medical professionals are quick to note.
The belief that drugs can give us happiness leads only to addiction and other short-sighted coping strategies like denial or withdrawal from others. You’ll enjoy far more benefits if you engage in healthy activities such as gardening. So sink a spade into a clod of soil and get ready for a better life. All you need is a little sunlight, a little dirt, and a big desire to feel better.
You probably already know that tending a garden is great physical exercise. But a growing body of evidence shows that it offers a bloom of benefits for your mind and spirit as well. These include:
- Sharper thinking. A pair of studies showed reduced risk of dementia among seniors who make gardening a regular part of their lives. Researchers believe the combination of mental and physical activity helps to keep the wits sharp over time.
- Better sleep. Gardeners enjoy deeper, more restful sleep than sedentary people who stay inside.
- Beating the blues. A study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveals that gardening can help to relieve depression. This is especially true for those who garden at least 2.5 hours per week.
- Faster recovery from stress. Gardening promotes the release of brain chemicals that help mind and body to bounce back from stressful events. One study shows that getting your hands dirty can help cleanse your mind of its worries better than physically passive activities like reading. Don’t use that as an excuse to stop reading this article, though!
- More happiness. One study showed that seniors in particular enjoy a lighter, more positive mood as a result of gardening. This is partly due to improved diet, but it also results from the focused concentration growing a garden requires.
- Union with nature. Data shows that physical activity in a natural setting offers more benefits than exercise in an artificial environment. It seems there’s something deep in the human spirit that craves closeness to the outdoors and the wonders of nature.
- Improved social skills. Gardening builds a sense of community among those who engage in it as a group, offering potent psychological benefits.
Add it all up and it’s easy to see why so many people think of gardening as a tonic for the soul. This is some real food for thought, given that planting a garden need not cost more than a few dollars. This is true even for crowded urban settings. You can grow a lot of food in even the smallest patches of dirt, a fact to which fans of container gardening will gladly attest.
Maria Cannon wrote this article for Bound by Beauty. Maria has suffered from depression and anxiety for years. Her hobbies--gardening, quilting, sewing, and knitting--play a major role in maintaining her mental health. Those of us who are involved with Bound by Beauty believe wholeheartedly in the healing power of nature, whether the problem is rooted in the body or the mind. Whether you grow vegetables or butterflies -- or both! -- your immersion in nature will go a long way toward healing what ails you.