gardening and depression

HOW GARDENING CAN HELP THE FIGHT AGAINST DEPRESSION

Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years. How rhetorical this may seem, but this is true. Gardening has been considered a relaxing and therapeutic activity and is eminent for various health benefits. Amidst the pandemic and the increasing prevalence of mental health problems, especially depression, people need to indulge in healing activates and behaviour to remain healthy.

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.

Alfred Austin

Covid 19 and depression

COVID-19 has seriously impacted our mental health and limiting our outdoor exposure. Because of the lockdown imposed by governments and social distancing and the restrictions to visit parks, gardens, or other outdoor spaces, fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and depression are increasing among the population (Dzhambov et al., 2020). Depression leads to excessive sadness, distorted thinking, diminished interest in daily and pleasurable activities, and decline in memory and attention span (Gonzalez et al., 2010).


Gardening as an alternate intervention

Various people feel the need for therapy, but the traditional sources of treatments, including medication, and psychotherapy, are either difficult to approach or too expensive. However, smaller everyday interventions like exposure to stimulating environments have also had healing power. They are useful in dealing with mental illness symptoms and leading to lifestyle changes. The therapeutic setting is the environment that promotes mental and physical health. Nature and landscape provide us with the best therapeutic environment, and its benefits run through both effective and cognitive pathways.


Various organizations are also prescribing gardens and gardening as a nature-based activity to improve health and wellbeing. Therapeutic gardens have been used in hospitals for thousands of years and were strongly encouraged by Florence Nightingale. The use of nature as an intervention is increasingly recognized worldwide as an effective method to promote social, emotional, psychological, and physical wellbeing (Howarth, Brettle, Hardman & Maden, 2020).

Nature can distract us from our daily hassles, which boost our fatigued mental resources (Beute & de Kort, 2018). The therapeutic effect of nature targets the unconscious processes. It influences the brain’s emotion-driven part, which tells us to relax (Jiang, 2014). We are engineered to feel calm and comfortable in non-threatening natural environments (Beute & de Kort, 2018). 

It is suggested that nature-based interventions like gardening or therapeutic horticulture influence the cognitive mechanism involved in depressive symptoms. In depression, the capacity to focus on a goal-directed activity got impaired, along with higher rumination and brooding. Increasing the activity in one’s life and adopting an activity-based lifestyle helps a depressed person gain pleasure and get away from the ruminative response style. For this purpose, gardening is highly effective and reinforcing (Gonzalez et al., 2010). Gardening is a meaningful activity that enables individuals to be active, capable, and use. It teaches a sense of accomplishment and success.

What is gardening?

Nature-based interventions include various activities and deeds, including plants, the natural environment, and living creatures. The engagement in nature via gardening activities like allotment gardening, guerrilla gardening, and community gardening are found to be healing and therapeutic. Gardening involves planting seeds or flower bulbs in bed, potting, cultivating flowers, taking cuttings, pricking out, sweeping and maintain the garden, using and cleaning gardening tools, growing food, exercising, and connecting with others (Howarth et al., 2020).

Several research studies have confirmed the beneficial effects of merely observing nature or images of natural landscapes on mood and mental health. A Japanese study reported that looking at plants altered the EEG recordings reducing stress, fear, anger, and sadness. It also reduced blood pressure, pulse rate, and muscular tension.

Various studies from the UK and other countries suggested that biodiverse habitats and a higher proportion of green space are associated with decreased rates of depression, anxiety, and stress (Thompson, 2018). Gardening and nature-based therapy also reduce the physiological stress markers, including lowering cortisol levels, the stress hormone, and improving the heart rate variability (Hall & Knuth, 2019).

Gardening as exercise and social get-together.

Gardening combines physical activity, social interaction, and exposure to nature and sunlight. Sunlight is responsible for lowering blood pressure and an increase in vitamin D levels. Sunlight also promotes plants, flowers, and vegetation, which is a rewarding experience for the gardeners. Gardening improves and restores agility and strength.

Certain gardening activities are calorie-burning, including digging, raking, and mowing. Also, the social interaction provided by communal and therapeutic gardens can counteract social isolation (Thompson, 2018).

It is evident that engaging in nature and vegetation like garden walking and reflective journaling reduces depression and increases memory span and attention performance. It is estimated that individuals who engage in nature and gardening are 6% less likely to develop depressive symptoms. Moreover, the residents who have green space far from their house, almost half a mile, are 25% more likely to develop depression and 30% greater risk of developing anxiety (Hall & Knuth, 2019).

Health Benefits of Indoor Gardening

When it is not possible to go outside for a green dose, there are a few alternatives that you can employ to gain psychological benefits. Being in nature sometimes imply going outdoors and interacting with plants in their natural habitat so to speak.

However, various research studies have demonstrated that looking at greenery from your window or looking at a picture or landscape of nature also positively impacts your mental health. It gives you the feeling of being away from daily worries. It increases your fascination with the pleasant aspects of the environment (Dzhambov et al., 2020).

Secondly, you can engage with nature in greenery via your indoor gardening or vegetation. Potted plants and kitchen gardens are responsible for reducing stress, discomfort, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. It also increases attention and boosts cognitive performance.

Thirdly, you can enjoy gardening and nature while being at home through gardens in your backyard or balcony with plants. Domestic gardens also reduce depression and anxiety, and various other psychological issues (Dzhambov et al., 2020).


Gardening and plantation have a lot more benefits than adding beauty to your house. If you feel sad, lonely, and depressed lately, try to nurture a flowering plant in a pot, sow a fruit tree seed in your backyard or grow little herbs in recycled bottles in your kitchen.

Watching those tiny seeds into seedlings and plants will fascinate and mesmerize you. Smelling the first flower of your plant, plucking the first fruit from your tree, or adding herbs in the salad from your garden gives you a sense of accomplishment. You will feel happy again, and it won’t require much effort.

References

Hall, C., & Knuth, M. (2019). An update of the literature supporting the wellbeing benefits of plants: A review of the emotional and mental health benefits of plants. Journal of Environmental Horticulture37(1), 30-38. https://doi.org/10.24266/0738-2898-37.1.30

Beute, F., & de Kort, Y. A. (2018). The natural context of wellbeing: Ecological momentary assessment of the influence of nature and daylight on affect and stress for individuals with depression levels varying from none to clinical. Health & place49, 7-18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2017.11.005

Dzhambov, A. M., Lercher, P., Browning, M. H., Stoyanov, D., Petrova, N., Novakov, S., & Dimitrova, D. D. (2020). Does greenery experienced indoors and outdoors provide an escape and support mental health during the COVID-19 quarantine?. Environmental Research, 110420. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2020.110420

Jiang, S. (2014). Therapeutic landscapes and healing gardens: A review of Chinese literature in relation to the studies in western countries. Frontiers of architectural Research3(2), 141-153. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foar.2013.12.002

Thompson, R. (2018). Gardening for health: a regular dose of gardening. Clinical Medicine18(3), 201. https://dx.doi.org/10.7861%2Fclinmedicine.18-3-201

Gonzalez, M. T., Hartig, T., Patil, G. G., Martinsen, E. W., & Kirkevold, M. (2010). Therapeutic horticulture in clinical depression: a prospective study of active components. Journal of advanced Nursing66(9), 2002-2013. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2010.05383.x Howarth, M., Brettle, A., Hardman, M., & Maden, M. (2020). What is the evidence for the impact of gardens and gardening on health and wellbeing: a scoping review and evidence-based logic model to guide healthcare strategy decision making on the use of gardening approaches as a social prescription. BMJ open10(7), e036923. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2020-036923

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