© ivanko80 / Adobe Stock
Depression and anxiety affect one-in-four people. While there’s no cure, researchers consistently argue that gardening can help relieve symptoms of a wide range of mental health issues.
The facts speak for themselves. A Gardeners’ World poll concluded that 93% of respondents believe gardening improves their mood, with 80% of gardeners feeling satisfied with their lives compared to 67% of non-gardeners.
Indeed, Gardeners’ World presenter Monty Don, who has spoken candidly about his own battles with depression, firmly believes that gardening can have the same effect as medicine on mental health. He argues that gardening should be prescribed by doctors as a form of treatment for mental health issues.
It seems you don’t need to spend lots of time gardening to benefit. A study by the University of Essex and the University of Westminster concluded that just 30 minutes in the garden each week can have a profound effect on a person’s mental health.
With such compelling evidence, just how can going green-fingered beat the blues?
At its very simplest, gardening is a form of exercise – and exercise has been proven to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. This is because exercise reduces stress hormones in the body and floods it with feel-good chemicals.
Being outdoors in the fresh air is an instant mood lifter. Sunlight also boosts serotonin levels, which is a hormone that makes us feel happy.
Whether you’re cutting the grass, pruning a shrub or planting seeds, your mind becomes focused on the task in hand. This distraction pushes negative thoughts to one side, allowing your mind and body to relax.
Many people with mental health issues find it hard to focus and gain structure in their lives, but this is where gardening can really help. Many gardening tasks require you to think ahead, and plan what needs doing when, thus keeping your mind and body active.
Those who suffer from depression and anxiety often lack confidence, but gardening can change that. Tending to plants and watching them grow gives someone a renewed sense of responsibility and achievement, which can bolster their self-worth. Like animals, plants don’t judge those who look after them, further boosting the confidence of those in charge.
Being surrounded by nature, soaking up its sights and sounds, is very soothing and nurturing for the soul. Connecting with nature and the changing seasons not only grounds us, but it helps to put our problems into perspective.
Gardening is mindful
Health experts advocate mindfulness for mental well-being as it forces you to live in the present. This stops you fretting over past or future worries and concerns. Gardening is a mindful activity as you need to focus on the here and now of what you’re doing, whether that be deciding where to plant a tree, which flowers need deadheading or which plants need feeding.
Negative emotions such as stress, tension and anxiety can escalate over time, potentially causing harm to the mind and body. Whether you take these feelings out on the weeds or get physical with some strenuous digging, gardening releases pent-up emotions, making you feel much calmer.
Stimulate the senses
Being surrounded by colourful plants or scented flowers can stimulate the senses, creating positive vibes. The scent of lavender, for example, is soothing and can lower feelings of stress and anxiety, while fragrant jasmine is said to boost sleep quality.
What makes gardening so effective as a mood booster is that you don’t need lots of skills or a huge plot to notice a difference. Even growing herbs on a windowsill or patio can provide a person with positive, well-being effects.