A depressed mind can find solace in gardening….
Stress leading to depression and anxiety is a common occurrence in our century. This further leads to serious health issues like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and digestive problems. These ailments are now grouped as `lifestyle diseases` and usually affect urban populations. What is missing is that link to Nature. Gardening is the easier way to create that association and is enthusiastically practiced by people all over the world.
The Japanese are avid gardeners and follow a style distinctly their own. They have the phrase `shinrin yoku` which means` bathing in green`.
Studies have found that being surrounded by greenery has a soothing effect and cures depression and anxiety. A small plot of land, a rooftop, a balcony, or even a wall can be converted to a garden.
A lot of research has been done by health practitioners and psychologists into the efficacy of Horticulture therapy. Research has found that Horticultural therapy reduces anxiety and depression caused by harmful overthinking. It also reduces cortisol, BMI, and improves the quality of life.
Depression brings on negative thoughts, a gloomy atmosphere, and panic attacks. Gardening brings that breath of fresh air that blows away the cobwebs from the mind. It clears all depressing ruminations as one has to concentrate on nurturing plants. Being closer to nature gives a different perspective to a heavy heart.
How to go about creating a garden?
With the idea that this undertaking is for relaxation it should be approached as a pleasurable activity, not one to cause more stress. Study the space you have, even if it may be just a table. These days all information is just a click away. Educate yourself on the kind of plants that can be grown in a particular environment, what kind of soil is required, the amount of watering and fertilizers to be used. Sunlight should be taken into consideration.
Are you interested in growing vegetables or flowers? Choose to grow what makes you happy. Remember to leave a little space where you can sit and enjoy the fruits of your labour.
Just sitting quietly with a cup of tea can bring great peace of mind.
What do we gain through Gardening?
“We release the `happy chemicals` into our brain.”
In recent years, research has unearthed two natural ways of releasing the chemicals serotonin and dopamine to the brain. These automatically strengthen our immune system and fight depression. Through permaculture they have discovered that all you have to do is dirty your hands with mud.
Our obsession with hygiene and sterile surroundings prevents us from dirtying ourselves. The practice of digging the earth, handling the mud with our bare hands, filling flower pots, processing manure increases the levels of serotonin. We come in contact with a specific soil bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae. This acts as a natural anti-depressant and fortifies the immune system.
The other, is the flush of Dopamine when we harvest our first fruit, crop, or flower. A feeling of satisfaction and happiness flows through us. This what the early hunters experienced after their first catch, or what a shopaholic feels after shopping. The dopamine is released at the sight of the flowers, fruit or harvest which gives a feeling of utter bliss.
We prepare the soil, we get the best seed, we plant and nurture the crop, and even then, at times we will fail to get the fruit or flowers we were hoping for. This was not what we expected. It is the same in life. Things do not always go the way we want them to, despite our best efforts. For our peace of mind, we have to learn to accept the unpredictable.
Gardening is very much like life in that way. We work with a lot of expectation and hope for the best. It teaches us acceptance of stressful situations.
Performing physical exercise
Exercise is essential for a healthy mind and body and gardening gives ample opportunity. The strenuous task of digging and making flower beds, lifting of pots and implements from one place to the other. We are bending or sitting on our haunches to weed the beds or trim and uproot plants, seeing to the watering and fertilizing of the garden. The list is endless.
The exercise releases endorphins into our system which all contribute to the feel-good factor. If all the work is done without any help, just an hour a day is enough to keep your mind off stressful situations.
While carrying out any action in the garden we concentrate on it without any other thought in mind. We are carrying out an activity without any moral judgement. We notice the colours of different fruit and flowers; we listen to the cheerful chirping of birds; we recognise the different types of soil. We concentrate on weeding so we don`t pull out the flowers, we must not over-water the plants, we must use just the right type and amount of fertilizer.
Doing all this requires us to be mindful of the particular task in hand to the exclusion of all others. In the clinical sense, this is an important stage to bring about change in depression.
Feeling a sense of responsibility and self- esteem
When we plant vegetables, fruit, or flowers we make ourselves responsible for their nurture. We have to see to their pruning, weeding, and watering. If we do not care for them, they will die. For a person suffering from depression it often gives a purpose in life.
When their efforts bear fruition and the garden blooms and looks beautiful it gives a sense of being worthy. It builds self-esteem and confidence that they have been able to create something beautiful.
Nothing beats the joy of putting fresh vegetables, grown in your own garden, on the table. People have grown vegetables even on rooftops and in flower pots. They have even successfully created a business in organic produce. There is no end to the ingenuity.
All types of gourds, beans, greens for salads, herbs, or whatever else your heart desires can be grown. The sense of achievement is tremendous. The bonus is that you get to share the produce with friends and family and gain their appreciation and friendship.
We have often heard it said that gardening is therapeutic. It gives us a break from all other problems for that given time. We concentrate on repotting, digging up the soil and removing weeds.
For that moment in time we are far away from stressful situations in the office or Homefront. And that we can go back to address those problems with renewed vigour. It is the one place where you are in control.
If you don’t want the tomatoes near the wall, you can plant them in the centre of your garden. Place the lilies where you can enjoy the perfume when they grow out. You are the boss here and it gives a euphoric feeling.
Whether it is just a few potted plants on your table, or an indoor or outdoor garden, the sight makes you smile. That goes a long way in lifting the feeling of depression and anxiety.