Written by therapist Liliia Chernytska
“When the world wearies, and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden.”
Have you ever wondered why we feel so good among trees, touching the ground and grass, plucking ripe fruit from a tree, or simply breathing while walking among the pines? For decades, research has been conducted on the effect that nature has not only on human physiology, but also on mental health.
Numerous studies prove that human interaction with nature has a significant positive impact on its condition. Even contemplating nature and the color green helps to reduce anxiety and depression, increasing the level of life satisfaction and cognitive functions. And it is not surprising, regardless of which theory of the creation of the world you hold to, that trees were on Earth even before the appearance of humans—or at least they were the first neighbors of humans on earth. Gardening is one of the most ancient occupations of humanity, and it has much practical significance.
So what happens to me when my hands touch the ground?
There are many processes in the human brain during gardening. Let’s look at a few of them:
Reduced Anxiety and Stress
One of the main methods in the fight against anxiety and stress is the ability to ground and stop. People usually learn various breathing exercises and grounding techniques that bring them back from the circle of disturbing painful thoughts into the present moment. When we stick our hands into the ground, our sensory receptors work, so the dryness of the earth, the moisture of the mud, the smells of the plants, and the very process of gardening grounds us, drawing us to the present moment. You feel the earth with your hands, inhale the aromas of hot herbs with your nose, and look at the variety of colors with your eyes.
Focusing your attention on the immediate tasks and details of gardening can reduce negative thoughts and feelings and can help you feel better in the moment. Just spending time with plants reduces stress. Gardening can make you feel more peaceful and content. The effect of gardening is similar to mindfulness—or meditation—especially if you approach it consciously and with pleasure. Research also supports the notion that mindfulness or meditation decreases emotional reactivity.
Self-esteem is how much you value and feel positively about yourself. Planting something, taking care of it, being involved in the birth of a new life, and maintaining and developing this life are extremely pleasant feelings. When you see your hard work pay off with healthy plants, your self-confidence, and positive self-image increase.
Growing in Acceptance
A growing sense of capability. Especially when other areas of life are out of your control or in the chaos of a fast-paced world, there is something stable about planting a seed in the ground and nurturing it. It will grow and even bear fruit. Gardening is a constant process of learning, not only scientific knowledge about plants, chemistry, and physics, but also about life. Plants have their own rhythm of life; seasons bring their own changes in the rhythm and properties of plants and land. It teaches the rhythms of life, the acceptance of seasonal changes in our lives, and helps us discover our place amid these changes.
Other effects on mental health include attention deficit recovery, enhanced memory retention, improved happiness and life satisfaction, and reduced effects of dementia.
Where should I start?
Start with something within your budget, time, and space. How about herbs on your window sill? Or small tomatoes on the balcony? There are many blogs and articles on urban gardening, many creative ways to grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers using minimal resources.
But the most important rules of therapeutic gardening are:
- Just start and stay awake while starting
- Plant what you like
- Start with something affordable and easy
- Spend time with and care for your plants.
“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.”
– May Sarton