You know the feeling you get when you wade into a pool on a hot summer day? That moment when you take your first sip of coffee in the morning? The feel of sliding into freshly laundered sheets? That “Ah” moment.
The power of Ah can do wonders for your mental health and overall quality of life. The more we embrace moments that create calm, contentment, and satisfaction in our minds and bodies, the more we are able to focus on the little moments of good, and brush aside the small stressors of life. Nature can nurture the power of Ah.
Rumination in Nature
A study by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) compares the effect of being in nature versus being in urban spaces on the brain. Their findings showed that participants who took a 90-minute stroll through nature had “decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression”, as compared to those who took a walk through an urban space. According to the study, a key factor associated with depression is rumination. Rumination as defined by the National Library of Medicine is “a form of perseverative cognition that focuses on negative content, generally past and present, and results in emotional distress”.
One of my own personal experiences with rumination came as a result of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in its early days, as a vague panic set out across the world and authorities doled out bewildering and sometimes confusing messaging on how to respond. Let me set the scene for you:
My heart skips a beat as I jolt up in a panic. I look over at my alarm clock, in my still dark room. 6:30 AM. Oh, it’s grocery day, I realize, as my mom turns on the bright florescent light blinding my vision. I groggily rise from bed and head to the car to drive to Sprouts, the only grocery store in town that opens at 7, giving mom and I a fighting chance to complete our heist undisturbed. Mom and I grab our bags and put on our makeshift masks, headbands my sister and I used to wear during YMCA soccer practice, and nod at each other to acknowledge that we both know the strategy. I wearily approach the entrance at 6:59, feeling like a trick-or-treater, awaiting the filling of my plastic pumpkin. 7 o’clock strikes. There is no turning back. Mom and I race through the aisles we had previously mapped out from memory, and execute on the plan as quickly as possible. She points, I grab. At the end of aisles, mom inches around the corner to make sure another human is not loitering nearby, or else, abandon all composure in the event that someone happens to be there and speed off in the opposite direction. I stand back in disbelief as mom tries to read the grocery list with her disheveled mask and fogging sunglasses, knowing the breaking point is coming. She frantically screams, “WE HAVE GOT TO GET OUT OF HERE NOW”. I nod in terror, and we make a beeline to the cash register, swipe our card, and the heist is complete.
This story describes the heightened levels of anxiety that I personally experienced during the pandemic. This anxiety led to depression, which led to an extremely unhealthy mind and body. The persistent ruminating on negativity I experienced at the beginning of the pandemic was at the forefront of my life for months, as lockdowns dragged on and social interaction receded to Zoom calls and binging on Netflix. The power of connection for us humans is a big deal, whether it be with our friends and family, our work associates or just connecting to the natural world.
One of the silver linings of this experience for me was the realization that my “Ah” moment can indeed come from the natural world. I moved to San Diego and now I am constantly outside experiencing and embracing the natural world. Hiking, gardening, swimming, surfing, rollerblading, practicing yoga, and even eating most of my meals outside on the beaches or parks. Taking advantage of the access to the natural world around you can offer a strong sense of Ah. When your mind feels at ease and absorbed by the world around you, there is simply less of a need, want, or subconscious desire to ruminate on the little negatives in life that really do not matter in the grand scheme of things. When we are able to lessen these thought spirals, we are able to live better, more fulfilling, and productive lives. Ah!
Mental health is a huge issue in the United States, affecting about 1 in 5 adults or 52.9 million people according to the National Institute of Mental Health. There are various ways to effectively treat mental health issues and teach people to cope. However, due to the increasing price of drugs and general inaccessibility to therapy for the majority of the population, a new approach is emerging. There have been ample studies connecting the presence of nature, and even more specific, gardening to an improvement in mental health conditions. Therapeutic gardens have been a staple in hospitals and prisons for years, and have been proven to greatly improve the lives of patients and inmates. How can the simple act of gardening be so beneficial to a person? Professors at the University of Alberta explain that gardening “combines physical activity with social interaction and exposure to nature and sunlight”. They go on to explain that sunlight is a key source of life and increases Vitamin D levels, while simultaneously decreasing blood pressure. The lower the blood pressure, the lower the ruminations, the lower the anxiety. Let’s get to gardening, folks.
Nature Shouldn’t be a Novelty
Peter James, a professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health, tells us that simply spending time around trees, can lead to drastic changes in chronic disease, anxiety, depression, and cognition.
For many of us, this may translate into “I should take a trip to the mountains”. That is a fantastic idea, and would probably be a great breath of fresh air to reset your mind and body. However, what about when you get back to your life in the city with bustling cars and commitments and stressors? Through the research Professor James has conducted, he argues that nature incorporated into your everyday life will lead to greater long-term health benefits than simply taking a vacation.
A simple solution to this lack of nature in urban space would be to push our elected officials to create more accessible green spaces throughout cities, and not just in affluent areas. But, as it often goes with issues in the political world, this can be a long and drawn-out process with not near enough funding, patience, resources, or care to be established. Your mental health is too important to wait around for a new park to be created, so it is time to take matters into our own hands.
How to Create an “Ah” Moment
How can we incorporate plants, trees, nature, and green space into our day-to-day lives when the vast majority of the world lives in a concrete jungle? The number of city-dwellers is continuing to rise as evidenced by Pew Research Center’s finding that growth in “rural counties have lagged, and half of them have fewer residents now than they did in 2000”. A simple way to do this is through gardening. To some of us, this may seem like an impossible feat, as you stare out your window 20 floors down to earth, and surrounded by ever more buildings. But, there is no need to fret – there are super easy ways to bring nature and your own moments of Ah right to your apartment’s doorstep. This is where Gardenuity comes in. Gardenuity takes garden inspiration and couples it with ingenuity to give us purpose, passion, a sense of Ah, and a burst of color and delivers it directly to you.
Imagine this power of Ah translating into an “aha!” moment within your professional life and encouraging more creativity and patience within the workplace. Imagine this power of Ah creating a deeper appreciation for the people in your life. Imagine this power of Ah alleviating ruminations and anxious tendencies. Sounds nice, right?
Gardenuity: Who, What, Why, and How
Gardenuity is a women-owned and women-run business that aims to make gardening easy and accessible. Aside from the satisfaction that tending to one’s own garden brings, the core of Gardenuity focuses on mental health and wellness and bringing people back to the roots of the earth.
“It feels good to grow”. Experience gardening in a whole new way and enjoy the well-being that comes with every garden. Gardenuity brings that right to your door.
At Gardenuity, there are ample options to get growing, offering the standard subscriptions such as “The Vegetable Garden”, “The Herb Garden”, or “The Chef’s Garden”. These subscriptions keep you going and your garden growing all year long. Gardenuity also offers indoor plant options for those of us who may not have the luxury of creating a full-blown garden and are in need of a small oasis on our bedside table or kitchen counter.
One of the most interesting features of Gardenuity is their ability to create garden recommendations made for you and your lifestyle specifically through a matching technology. They figure out what plant is the perfect match for you and everything you need is sent straight to your door. Whether it is a full-blown outdoor garden you seek, or a little pocket of life to keep you creative and calm at your desk, there are endless options in which to bring more life to your day-to-day life. Gardenuity is on a mission to assist you in creating the power of Ah within your life. And Ah, that is powerful.