This year has been mentally challenging for a lot of us. It feels like we suddenly woke up one day to a devastating global pandemic, protests covering our nation from coast to coast, and unemployment at an all-time high.
With a hundred reasons to fret and stress, you may have felt down lately. Nearly 50 percent of people have reported adverse mental health effects resulting from COVID-19 alone. However, it does not have to stay that way forever. There are a plethora of ways to raise your spirits even during these troubling times. One proven, multi-faceted, and flexible way to destress, is gardening.
Even if you consider yourself cursed with a “brown thumb,” you may find that the process of growing something from the earth you live on is as rewarding as it is therapeutic. There truly is no better time to pick up a hobby than now, and spending some quiet time with nature may be precisely what you need for a pick-me-up.
In this article, we will discuss seven ways that gardening can improve your mental health and your overall sense of happiness. So get yourself all tucked in and ready to hear how gardening could lead to a happier, more fulfilling life.
1. Minimizes Stress
Stress is one of the most common negative human emotions felt by everyone around the world. Over 75% of people experience stress that affects their physical health. Physically, your body may experience muscle tension, high blood pressure, digestive problems, or other ailments.
Mentally, your stress can lead to anxiety and depression. By directly interacting with the essential components of gardening, such as soil, sunlight, and nature, your stress levels are likely to go down. Spending time out in the garden reduces the production of cortisol, a hormone produced by the body in times of stress. Cortisol is responsible for muddy thinking, an elevated heart rate, sweaty palms, and other less-than-desirable side effects. Studies have found that gardening is even more stress-relieving than reading!
2. Strengthen Immune System
The sunlight you receive from being in your plant box doesn’t just help with your stress levels – it has other benefits as well! Gardening can strengthen your immune system, meaning that it will be easier to fight off infections–or viruses affecting our globe today.
Getting down and dirty in your garden’s soil also produces the right kind of immune boosters. Instead of gaining eosinophils, which provoke allergic reactions, gardening will help your body produce neutrophils. These white blood cells are already part of your innate immune system and continually react to microbial invaders. These are the kind of bio-fighters you want in your body, especially right now!
Immune Strengthening Plants
While your immune system benefits from being in the dirt, you can also grow plants that are natural immune boosters themselves! Here are just a few plants that have proven to make your immune system ready for a fight:
- Echinacea: Traditionally, this herb was used by indigenous peoples to purify blood! Today, echinacea is especially useful for fighting respiratory diseases like the common cold (or possibly COVID-19).
- Elderberries: The significant boost from elderberries lies in proanthocyanidins. The fruit’s antimicrobials have fought off flu symptoms for centuries!
- Astragalus: On top of boosting your immune system, this bean/legume herb primarily for heart disease and other organs.
- Aloe vera: Aloe vera is one of the more popular plants used for boosting immune systems. It is packed full of polysaccharides and anti-inflammatory properties.
3. Builds Muscles
While gardening won’t necessarily make you ready for your next bodybuilding competition, it will sure make those smaller muscles throughout your body get a good workout. Even the Center for Disease Control and Prevention qualified the hobby as an exercise! In fact, just 30-45 minutes of gardening can burn up to 300 calories and engage all major muscle groups!
Being indoors for months on end may have impacted the amount of strength you have. Chances are, your muscles have deteriorated over these last few months of quarantine if you haven’t been getting the same amount of daily activity or exercise. Gardening offers an inexpensive, easygoing way back into regular physical activity without hurting your body. The physical activity involved is also ideal for getting your body moving again because of the limited number of repeated movements, often leading to ailments such as tennis elbow. And the best part is, you get to have fun while you do it!
Gardening also leads to healthier eating habits. Since the fruits and vegetables are grown in your own space, you don’t have to question what kinds of fertilizers and pesticides have come in contact with your food. With an entire garden of carefully curated and managed fruits and vegetables of your choice, you are sure to indulge in their nutritious goodness more often. Gardening is not only good for your body, but it also helps your wallet!
4. Stay Present
It can be hard to live in the moment when you are constantly worrying about the problems going on in the world. With the constant bombardment of Tweets, Instagram, and Facebook posts, achieving this sense of calm is becoming more difficult. Gardening offers an escape to all of that.
Working on your plants keeps your mind focused on the task in hand (such as digging, pruning, or weeding), instead of on the more significant global issues facing the world today. The single act of staying present has a long, long list of benefits in and of itself, including:
- Relationship satisfaction
- Less emotional reactivity
- Better Sleep
- Improve attention span
5. Soak in the Sun for Some Vitamin D
Exposing your skin to the sun has an extensive list of benefits of its own. The most important effect is the increased production of Vitamin D. Unfortunately, as of 2018, a shocking 42% of Americans reported they are deficient in Vitamin D . This is surprising since all your body needs is a measly 10-15 minutes a day out in the sunshine! With such a short amount of time in the sun, you get all these benefits:
Vitamin D helps:
- Lower your blood pressure
- Protect against inflammation
- Improves brain function
Low Levels of Vitamin D may lead to:
- Heart disease
- Prostate cancer
- Mood Swings
6. Find a Sense of Purpose
One unique quality gardening offers is a more profound sense of purpose in your life. You are no longer living to wake up every morning, but you have something to look after, nurture, and grow to its full potential. Almost immediately after you begin your gardening journey, you will see results that are sure to fill you with a sense of pride and accomplishment. These emotions spark feel-good hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin, in your brain.
7. Build Connections
Last but not least, gardening allows you to reconnect with the people around you and the world. When was the last time you sat outside and felt the sunshine dance on your skin or felt the texture of a leaf in your hand? How long has it been since you had a meaningful conversation about a project or a hobby? Gardening helps bring communities and people together.
Connecting with People
When social distancing is required to keep us safe, it is essential to remember that we do not need to eliminate connecting altogether.
Connecting with Nature
Gardening offers a unique experience to connect with the world beneath our feet. As a gardener, you will become in tune with the soil your plants are growing in, the rain clouds overhead, and the nutrients you will absorb from your delicious rewards. Instead of glancing briefly at the trees as you drive to the supermarket, you will have the opportunity to be up close and personal with the ladybugs parading in the dirt and the fruits of your proverbial garden.
Connecting with Yourself
The last connection you can find is between you and yourself. Gardening can be a handy meditation tool, even in small and enclosed spaces. The hobby can allow you to accept that you cannot control everything, that things will not be perfect in the traditional sense, and that all living things have a purpose.
There’s no denying it. The world misses you, your brain needs the break, and your body is tired of being indoors. Maybe it’s time to pick up your shovel, some gardening gloves, and begin growing for your health—both mentally and physically.
Eric Vinje founded Planet Natural with his father Wayne in 1991, originally running it as a grasshopper bait mail-order business out of a garage.
Eric is now retired, but is still a renowned gardener known for his expertise in composting, organic gardening and pest control, utilizing pesticide-free options, such as beneficial insects.
Eric believes when you do something good for the environment, the effects will benefit generations to come.