May is Mental Health Awareness Month. May is also the busiest month for gardeners, World Gardening Naked Day, and National Plant a Seed Day. Is this a coincidence? Perhaps not. It is no secret that gardening can do wonders for the mind, body, and spirit, especially in regards to mental health.
There is substantial research proving that gardening has a positive impact on mood and the brain’s chemistry. Gardening is one of the practices, like yoga, that encourages mindfulness in the present moment which is a rarity in the 21st century.
When is the last time you felt fully present at a meeting at work, at social gatherings, or time with your family? Chances are, in every situation you are in, your brain may be wandering to all of the things you have to do at work or how you are excited about a vacation in a few months, or how you forgot to buy milk and eggs when you went to the grocery store.
Gardening is a mindful practice where you quiet the mind by inhaling fresh air and engaging every sense. It improves your mood, boosts self-esteem, grows your attention span, and encourages social bonds, just to name a few benefits.
The Magnitude Behind Mental Health
Millions of Americans face the challenges of living and learning to cope with a mental illness every year, every month, every day, and every minute. Within the past decade, especially the years during and following the COVID-19 Pandemic, mental health has become more widespread than ever.
During May, The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, supports the nationwide responsibility to raise awareness and offer resources regarding mental health. Year after year, NAMI combats negative stigmas, offers resources for support, educates the public, and advocates for policies that support people struggling with mental illness, as well as offer help and support to their families.
The theme for this year’s awareness month from the National Alliance on Mental Illness is “Together for Mental Health.” The theme will focus on personal stories and anecdotes to allow people to realize that it is okay to not be okay and that many people struggle with the same things that they do. A common thread among people with mental illness is feeling alone and isolated. This is also an effort to bring community and connection to people desperately needing it. Experts stress that there is always time to focus on yourself through healing, reaching out, and connecting safely.
Many other national organizations will be partaking in the celebration this month, including Mental Health America, or MHA. MHA’s campaign for change emphasizes the importance of the physical environment that someone exists in as a positive or negative instigator of mental health. Examples of the highlighted topics are “safe and stable housing, healthy home environments, neighborhoods and towns, and the outdoors and nature.”
This leads us back to gardening…
Gardening and Mental Health
There is a reason being outside is good for your mental health. We all know the feeling of the sun on our skin, grass between our toes, and fresh air to breathe in. There is a serenity and peaceful aspect of nature that cannot be recreated from any other environment. Gardenings ability to make one feel better is long established. In A Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature, Stuart-Smith examines our historic relationship to gardens and demonstrates how gardening promotes mental health. “Gardens have been recognized as restorative since ancient times.” According to Stuart-Smith, “In the garden we can grow hope and a close contact with nature affects us on different levels; sometimes we are filled with it, fully present and conscious of its effects, but it also works on us slowly and subconsciously in a way that can be helpful with depression and anxiety.”
As we cultivate a garden, we cultivate an attitude of care. The idea that gardening and nature help people recover from mental illness became prominent in the eighteenth century. Since this time, social prescribing have grown in frequency and allows GPs to prescribe a course of gardening in stead of, or alongside medication.
For starters, gardening provides the peaceful and calming environment of an outdoor space that instantly reduces anxiety, lowers cortisol levels, and encourages positive thought patterns through nature nurturing you. Spending time outside with nature allows stimulation of all the senses. You can hear the sounds of birds singing and the wind rustling through the leaves. You can feel the earth beneath you and the soil in your fingers as you plant and prune. You expose your eyes to natural light and various colors and textures. These sensations can be a therapeutic source to quiet the mind and bring peace into your thoughts.
Furthermore, scientists and researchers show us how the direct connection with the earth through grounding is so beneficial. When we sit down in the grass, allow the soil to run through our fingers, or even walk barefoot throughout our houses or yards, we are already performing the ancient ritual of grounding and making an effort to physically connect the body to the Earth’s vibrations. This connection reduces stress hormones in our body and has powerful capabilities to quiet anxiety and boost the mood if depressed.
In addition, gardening provides people with a sense of purpose, self-esteem, and responsibility. These attributes are all positive reinforcements to negate the anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses someone may be dealing with. Spending time to nurture and care for something that is living and growing, can offer a sense of purpose that every human craves.
Finally, gardening promotes mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of allowing oneself to be fully present and focused in the moment. It allows obligations, worries, and doubts to roll off of one’s back to embrace the beauty of simplicity and life.
Whether it’s a container garden of herbs on a windowsill or a desktop garden, taking the time to connect with nature and care for living things can work wonders for your mind.
To further explore gardening for mental health here are a few good reads: