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Our lives from now on will always be separated into an era of before COVID-19 and after COVID-19. Every daily activity including how we exercise, how we eat, how we socialise and most importantly how we relax will be significantly impacted. Even before COVID-19, the benefits of gardening on mental health were documented but in context of the current circumstances, it has become essential to understand the various benefits gardening has to offer and how it can champion our mental health.
Fights anxiety and depression
Gardening is a unique activity which offers both the feelings of serenity and productivity in your own backyard. The feeling of the warm sun on your skin, breathing in the fragrant earth scented air, all the while contributing to the environment can be done without worrying about social distancing.
Not only does working in a garden provide you with a general sense of calm but also has a long term effect on alleviating anxiety, depression and even attention deficit disorders. This brings perspective to the ultimate scope of our problems and helps to reduce the sense of overwhelming stress. Greener environment promotes resilience in dealing with everyday fatigue.
During a six-week study conducted at the Morikami Park in Florida, adults had to spend time in the garden twice a week. At the end of the study, descriptions of the participant’s experiences were gathered. One of the prevailing statements was: ‘I learned a lot about myself in the garden. It gave me time to think about my life (the good and the bad) and to come to terms with who I am and how I lived my life.’
In a world, where we are surrounded by concrete buildings and grey shades, the vitality of a garden can be extremely pleasing to human senses. When you garden, you feel like you have created a bit of beauty in an otherwise dull and chaotic environment. This instils a deep sense of satisfaction and attachment. While gardening, you are able to let go of your troubling thoughts and rejuvenate your minds.
This has a direct impact on the overall mood, anger, aggression, and even severe violence in a person. This impact is so enormous that studies conducted haven show that the criminal activity of an entire population can decrease when exposure to nature increases. There is evidence of a link between attention, nature and aggression.
Examination of population in barren vs green areas in Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes showed increased conflict , violence and antisocial behaviour in the population surrounded by endless asphalt and buildings.
Aids cognitive learning
Working in the garden requires skill, concentration and knowledge which a beginner can acquire by research on the internet or by talking to fellow gardeners. Gardening is a mind anchoring activity. Learning about soil, seeds and seasons helps to channel your thoughts and provide a reprieve from routine office learning.
Gardening increases your concentration span and cognitive skills. Seeing the immediate physical effects of the proverb ‘you reap what you sow’ is a beautiful learning tool and increases your overall ability to think scientifically.
Study conducted at Lund, Sweden in an assisted living home, showed that there was an increase in concentration levels for participants after an hour in a green setting outside their geriatric home, whereas an hour in their favorite room had no effect.
Improves physical and mental health
Physical activity and mental health are intrinsically linked. Age, time and general dislike are barriers to aggressive forms of exercise. But, gardening helps to burn several calories without it feeling like an imposed activity or a structured form of exercise whose only goal is to lose weight.
Going to a gym or a park where several people are exercising are activities that may not be deemed completely safe, at least not in the coming months. While gardening is a beautiful and calming form of exercise and is completely safe.
Gardening can also be therapeutic in elderly suffering from age related dementia, chronic pain, or irreversible diseases like Alzheimer’s. It is a low intensity form of exercise and depending on the capacity of the elderly, they can participate in a specific garden activity. It also provides sensory stimulation which helps alleviate the cognitive decline seen with age and age specific diseases. And, most importantly it gives back a sense of purpose and beauty.
So get your tools and seedlings, dig up some earth and heal your minds by becoming one with nature.
Lee Chambers is an environmental psychologist and well-being consultant. He is the founder of Essentialise.