Can Gardening Improve Our Mental Health? From daffodils popping up in the fields to the scent of blooming crocus bulbs breaking out outside a flower shop, spring is here. Our gardens and outdoor spaces are waiting to offer us a path to more energy and less stress, anxiety and depression.
Fighting the overgrowth on a sunny March morning is one way to rejuvenate ourselves. Getting rid of ivy and nettles in that first warmth of the year is a chance to bury winter decay. Evidence from the Universities of Tokyo and Exeter confirms that spending a few hours in nature is good for you.
In Japan, being in the forest is a prescribed psychiatric treatment. The phrase “shinrin-yoku” can be translated as “forest bathing” and sums up the experience of being immersed in Mother Nature.
Other studies have shown that even being in colorful landscapes or looking at grass is linked to better recovery after surgery, less anxiety, and better mood.
Even just being in the great outdoors had participants in one study report higher self-esteem, better mood, and less fatigue and depression. According to a study by the British Royal Horticultural Society from 2021, gardeners experience 4.2 percent less stress and 6.6 percent higher well-being scores in everyday life than those who do not garden at all.
Our mental well-being has suffered greatly during the pandemic. The scars are still open. Maintaining connection with nature through effort can help us cope with the demands of life. It’s a break from the phone, email, and others (unless you’re the mother of a curious 22-month-old who really enjoys weeding).
It’s a mindful, sensual experience—feeling the warmth on your forearm, smelling the stray garlic shoot hidden among weeds, feeling damp clay between your fingers, and hearing the chirp of blackbirds as they feather their nests. It’s better than any YouTube meditation.
By scraping leaves, moving compost, and planting seedlings, we can connect with the unstoppable force of nature. Our work doesn’t have to be perfect – waiting for the first shots teaches us patience. And you get some credit on your Fitbit — half an hour of weeding burns the same number of calories as yoga or badminton.
However, not all of us have a backyard. Despite our reputation as a green island, there are big differences. There are farmers with fields as far as the eye can see, spacious plots of old buildings and noble row houses whose owners have exchanged the lawn for a larger kitchen. There are grass seeds in the mud in front of a new building or apartment dwellers who only have a balcony for a bucket of basil. In fact, many look out their windows without even seeing a blade of grass.
Social enterprises, allotment gardens and other initiatives offer respite from the concrete jungle. Working in community gardens can alleviate loneliness — a burden that many older people in particular carry.
Our use of outdoor space is constantly changing. Workers who left Dublin last year are about to have their first spring to tackle some gardening. From the aesthetic expression of beauty in Powerscourt to the nutritionally complementary kitchen gardenour outdoor area lets us get our hands dirty.
The interest in vegetable patches fostered during lockdown concerns us as global supply chains are disrupted and awareness of where our food comes from grows.
But gardens ultimately represent income inequality. Think of the nearly 3,000 children who are homeless in Ireland today. Her childhood is affected by the shelters, among other things, the lack of green space to play.
These boys and girls can’t kick a soccer ball around while waiting for dinner or push their little brother on a swing set. A garden is no guarantee of happiness for anyone – many children grow up happily living in apartments – but those who don’t have access to outdoor spaces are more likely to feel stressed and anxious about their surroundings.
This is another tiny example of how mental health problems are compounded for those born into disadvantaged backgrounds. The bottom line is that you can’t improve your sanity through gardening if you don’t have space to garden. Everyone deserves some time to romp around in a green space.
For those with their own actions, let us be thankful and use them. As Voltaire said, “We must cultivate our own garden.”
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/our-need-to-fully-embrace-the-great-outdoors-has-never-been-stronger-41415801.html Our need to fully embrace the great outdoors has never been stronger