Mental well-being is an often overlooked (yet crucial) component of our daily lives. According to The Washington Post, the United States spends $113 billion on mental health treatment annually. This comprises more than 5 percent of national health-care spending.
As we continue to advance technologically, the connection between our minds, bodies, and environment are becoming more obfuscated. This is to be expected–we are more likely to be checking our email or social media over our coffee in the morning rather than waking to a rooster’s crow and tending to the fields. We don’t need to get our hands dirty in the freshly turned soil in the open air and sunlight. That being said, recent studies have shown an indisputable connection between gardening and mental well-being.
According to a 2015 article published by Psychology Today, there are several key points that connect gardening to mental health. First of all, those who garden gain a sense of responsibility for the plants they tend to–it allows people who may have never had a pet to be natural nurturers. Secondly, it allows us to stay connected to other living things. Thirdly, it helps us to relax. It also releases endorphins (“happy hormones,” including oxytocin), reminds us of the cycle of life, and keeps us in the present moment. Instead of squeezing a stress ball the next time you are upset or anxious, try weeding your garden. For being such a simple task, who knew that gardening could have such a multitude of benefits?
According to a 2011 article published by CNN, the experience of gardening “allows people to connect to a primal state” that can help one cope with the stresses and anxieties of the modern world. It also good for your body and mind in several ways—all of that moving around will keep you limber while the fresh air and potential sunshine can help you to substantially improve your mood.
A three-year study done by the Loughborough Department of Social Sciences observed the benefits of horticulture as a healing tool for those with mental illness. One of the main researchers for the study, Dr. Jo Aldridge, found that patients being outside in the fresh air and partaking in the physical tasks associated with gardening helped improve their mental health and well-being. Not only did the gardening help socially excluded people gain valuable friendships and to expand their social networks, but it helped them to improve things like motor functions that they may have previously struggled with.
Even for those who do not struggle with mental illness, it is nonetheless vital to tend to our own physical and mental well-being. Recent studies by the Association for Psychological Science (APS) have found that a variety of factors can adversely affect mental and physical well-being, leading to greater unhappiness for longer periods of time, and a shorter life expectancy. Negative work environments that were both dissatisfying and stressful garnered the greatest amount of physical and mental distress among workers. Other contributing factors included adverse life events such as the death of a loved one, natural disasters and poverty.
Neglecting mental well-being can have tumultuous consequences, not the least of which is substance abuse and addiction. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) asserts that there is a definite connection between mental illness and substance abuse. The numbers show that over half of those who consume alcohol, tobacco, and cocaine have been diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives. One of the reasons for these statistics is the desire for victims of mental illness to self-medicate. Unfortunately, the use of drugs and alcohol can exacerbate the problem, often creating more severe symptoms or other mental illness.
Gardening, while it may not be the solution for every mental ailment, can serve as another tool to ease the symptoms of mental illness. It can also be used as an enjoyable preventative measure to ensure that we remain connected to our environments and live long, happy and healthy lives.
Photo via Pixabay
Author: Maria Cannon (HobbyJr.org)