4 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health by Gardening

Guest Author, Maria Cannon, wrote this article about the mental health benefits of gardening. While DIG often focuses on the food security, nutrition, and income benefits of our garden programming there are so many other gains including these listed below.

For gardeners, the rewards of fresh produce, extra time outdoors, more fresh air and sunshine, and a beautiful yard are reason enough to put time and energy into growing flowers and plants. But, gardeners often report that tending to their plants has a calming effect on them and puts them in a better mood. The idea that gardening improves mental health is not all in the gardeners’ heads, either; researchers are finding that gardening gives people mental clarity. We share four ways to improve your mental health by gardening below, to help inspire you to find tranquility in your own backyard.

1. Boost Your Self-Esteem

Whether you are someone who battles depression or finds it difficult to respect yourself, gardening can help boost your self-esteem. When you prepare a space and create a garden from an otherwise empty area, you gain a sense of pride and accomplishment. Gardening gives you the opportunity to grow flowers, fruits, and vegetables from seeds or small sprouts and nurture them into flourishing, thriving plants that provide beauty and produce for a few months.

Gardening also gives you confidence you may have been lacking for one reason or another. You don’t have to have the greenest thumb in the neighborhood, but you can learn the basics of gardening and understand how to prepare the soil, add nutrients to it, water your plants, and weed the area to give your plants more space and nutrients to grow properly. You also may find yourself reaching out to fellow gardeners to learn more about gardening and to share your tips and tricks, too. With a little more self-esteem, you will feel better about yourself and widen your social circle, which also can stave off depression and improves overall mental well-being.

2. Use Gardening as Horticultural Therapy

Gardening has been recognized as having therapeutic benefits since ancient times, and Dr. Benjamin Rush, the Father of American Psychiatry, documented the positive effects of gardening for people with mental illness in the 19th century. By the 1940s and 1950s, gardening as horticultural therapy was used as part of the rehabilitation efforts for war veterans. Now, gardening as therapy is widely accepted and is being used in schools, prisons, and other communities for rehabilitative and vocational purposes. 

Therapeutic gardens are specially designed to address healthcare needs, and there are several types of therapeutic gardens including those for healing, enabling, rehabilitation, and restorative purposes. To reap all of the benefits of a therapeutic garden, you should work with consultants or healthcare providers who specialize in designing them and become involved in a horticultural therapy program.

3. Improve Your Mood

variety of studies shows that gardening boosts people’s moods and makes them feel good. Some researchers point to the fact that gardening reduces the stress hormone cortisol and leads people to improve their moods better than reading to relax. Other researchers find that gardeners feel more spiritual and gain relief from trauma by tending to their plants. Still, other researchers have found that gardening is therapeutic, especially for people who struggle with depression. Even though each study has its own nuances, all point to gardening as a way to improve mental health and boost your mood.

4. Reduce Your Anxiety

If someone asked you whether gardening is a way to work out, you’d probably say no. But, researchers found that gardening delivers prolonged light exercise and burns more calories than a typical gym session because people work in their gardens two to three times longer than they work out. While gardening does deliver physical health benefits, it also stimulates your brain and helps you reduce anxiety, thereby delivering mental health benefits as well. 

When gardeners tend to their plants, they focus on the work at hand and forget about the stress-inducing aspects of their day. They also experience mental stimulation from nature because gardening is a sensory activity; they feel the soil and breeze and warmth from the sun, they hear the birds and rustling leaves and other nature sounds, and they smell the soil and the plants. Your senses and brain are stimulated so much more when you garden than when you work out that you feel less pain and experience less anxiety. 

Gardening has been known to improve mental health for centuries. You can improve your overall mental well-being by using gardening to boost your self-esteem, participate in horticultural therapy, improve your mood, and reduce your anxiety.

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Help Plant Seeds That Reap Life

With your support we can grow our capacity to equip uniquely vulnerable families with the skills and experience to meet their own needs and improve their well-being through gardening.