Gardening for Mental Health
Everyone knows that being outside is good for you. Sunlight, fresh air, and exercise can all be very beneficial for both your physical and mental health. But there’s one other thing you can add to the mix that has even more benefits: gardening.
If you’ve ever had a garden, you know how good it can feel. Tending to the plants, caring for the soil, carefully watering, and simply spending time surrounded by plants. But did you know that gardening and mental health have a deep relationship? Today, let’s talk about that: gardening as another avenue of self-care.
I personally get a lot of different benefits out of gardening. I have been doing it for years, and it’s become an integral part of who I am. Whether they’re my indoor succulents or outdoor herbs and veggies, my plants are very important to me. This even extends to video games where gardening is possible: one of the first things I do in any Minecraft world is plant crops, and a garden is added to my Skyrim house as soon as possible!
This year, gardening for mental health has meant even more to me. As I learn to cope with my arthritis and push myself further to be able to do more, my plants are there as a physical reminder of my progress. The more I can do, the better I can take care of my plants, and the better they do. Plus, they’re a great source of energy and vitality.
But, enough about me. How can gardening help you? Let’s take a look. And if you’d like to do more reading about the subject, I recommend this article, from which I pulled some of this information.
Being outside and exercise
As we mentioned, both being outside and doing exercise have benefits for your health. They can help manage symptoms of depression, increase energy levels, improve focus, and more. And gardening gives you a reason to do these things, which is especially helpful for those who need that extra push.
If you grow edible plants, this is a big benefit. I’m not just talking about eating healthier foods— although, yes, that is a benefit. But also, you’ll be eating food that you grew, food that you put work into. Food like this simply tastes better, and it comes with the satisfaction of knowing you grew it. Nothing beats the taste of arugula eaten fresh off the plant.
In our current world of viruses, social distancing, and racial injustice, it can be all too easy to forget to check in with yourself. When distancing ourselves from others, we sometimes forget not to distance from ourselves.
But one of the mental health benefits of gardening is that it can help you ground yourself and be more present. Giving your plants proper care requires focus and effort, which is hard to do if you aren’t grounded.
If you’re gardening for mental health, then you will have an incredible opportunity to add touches of personality and express yourself. Do you like red plants? Grow those! Really love tomatoes? Want to color-coordinate your plot of land? Only grow plants that are poisonous? Anything is possible!
Having this avenue of self-expression is good because any self-expression is good. It can help you feel better about yourself, and even be more confident. Plus, it’s just enjoyable.
In the same vein, gardening can also be used as an opportunity to further your personal or spiritual growth. I mentioned how I’m using it as a physical marker of my growth around arthritis, and that is just one possibility.
Perhaps you’re pulling yourself out of a bad spot, and the growth of the plants can act as a marker for your progress. Or maybe you’re trying to pursue spiritual growth, and you grow plants that can help you do that. Whatever your course, this is just another way you can use gardening for mental health.
Caring for others —> caring for yourself
Many of us struggle with caring for ourselves. Whether you don’t know where to start, can’t find the motivation, or simply don’t think about it, self-care can be hard. But gardening can actually really help with that.
Gardening requires that you take careful care of your plants. For full success, you might be treating plants like your own children. And at some point, your mind will say, “if I’m treating my plants like this, why can’t I do the same for myself?”
And that’s exactly the point. So caring for your plants can act as a reminder for you to take some time to care for yourself.
Green, green, and more green
It has been proven that simply being in nature has a myriad of benefits for your mental health. Being surrounded by green, by life, can be good for you. And with gardening, you have a constant source of that.
Of course, you could just sit in the middle of your lawn. But which do you think would feel better: being surrounded by grass and trees, or being surrounded by thriving plants that you have worked hard on?
This is a less-thought-of way to use gardening for mental health, but it can be very important. It can be hard to accept the things that we can’t change— and to relinquish control when necessary. But gardening can teach you how to do that.
You can put in as much effort as possible when gardening, use the perfect soil, use well-balanced fertilizers, provide perfect light conditions, and water excellently. But in the end, it’s all up to the forces of nature, and you can’t completely control what the outcome is.
At some point, you’ll have to accept this and realize that you’ve done all you can, and you just have to hope the plants respond well. And once you’ve done this, you can take that knowledge and apply it to other areas of your life. It can be a first stepping stone to practicing acceptance.
Similarly, gardening can help you learn to accept defeat. Sometimes, plants won’t sprout, or they’ll die, or they won’t produce as they should. That’s just life, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And by learning to accept that, you can once again use that to help you learn to accept defeat in the rest of your life.
Developing a growth mindset
Another way to use gardening for mental health is to use it to develop a growth mindset. This means you are focused on growth, whether personal, professional, social, or something else.
Life isn’t stagnant. It’s a constant onward motion of growth and change. If you don’t want to change, the world around you still will. And that’s what plants do: they grow and change and adapt to their environment.
So by gardening, you can use that knowledge that comes from the plants growing and encourage yourself to develop a growth mindset. If you accept that the world is always changing, then you can adapt to it, much like a plant would.
I think this one is more important now than ever before: gardening can help you stay connected. Whether to yourself, nature, the outside world, or to others, connection is important. Our DNA is engineered to function off of connectivity, and that can be something that’s hard to find right now.
But gardening can help with that. It helps you stay grounded and connected to yourself. It helps you connect to the natural world. And if you garden with others, or share the results of your gardening, you can foster connections with other people as well.
Last, but not least…
It’s fun! And no matter what the other benefits, gardening is something you do for yourself. So if your only reason for doing it is that it’s fun and you enjoy it, that’s fine!
A few tips
If you know find yourself thinking “I should try gardening for mental health” but don’t know where to start, don’t worry. Gardening is highly customizable, so you only have to take on what you can learn and are comfortable with. And here are a few tips to help you get started:
Just do it! Pick something you like, then figure out how to take care of it. There’s nothing wrong with figuring it out as you go, even if you don’t do everything perfectly the first time.
Focus on the soil. Whether in pots or in the ground, choosing the right soil is important, and so is making sure it has enough nutrients. Different plants have different requirements, but luckily, most nurseries have different soil blends to meet your needs.
Be patient. Plants can take a while to grow, and that’s normal.
Moisture. Again, different plants have different needs. Herbs and veggies often need a lot, while some succulents need very little. Make sure you have the right amount.
Most importantly, always be positive. This will not only help you feel more capable, but if you’re negative, your plants will absorb that energy and won’t thrive.
Do you know other ways that gardening can help mental health? Have other tips to share? Just want to talk about gardening? Leave a comment below or tag us on social media (@therapeutichealingjourney on Instagram and @llctherapeutic on Twitter). We’d love to hear from you!