Guest blogger Sally Jones discusses why gardening is so beneficial to our mental health and why this is backed up by mental health research.
Looking for some change this new year? Well, it’s time to dust off your shovel and make gardening your new hobby for 2018. Not only will pulling out all those pesky weeds make your garden look nice and boost your fitness, but more and more research is showing that gardening could actually be really good for our mental health, too.
Indeed, earlier this year we reported that gardening therapy is being prescribed more and more frequently by GPs after a study at Harvard University found time spent pottering around outside resulted in substantially lower levels of depression among participants. On top of this, a separate piece of research found that soil has the same effect on the brain as antidepressants, and that the natural mood-boosting effects of good old dirt can be felt for up to three weeks.
One person who has first-hand experience of just how much of an effect gardening can have on mental health is Lizzie McFarlane, a trainee community gardener for Green Synergy. Sharing her story with NetDoctor, she said:
“Getting out in my garden on a cold crisp winters morning, I stop to breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the calm. Christmas is over, and whilst for many, this time of year feels dark and dismal, seeing the garden in the winter reminds me that its OK to stop. I’m pleased I can find this peace and step away from the chaos of life as it acts as a stark reminder that only 2.5 years ago I’d have struggled to do so as a result of my acute anxiety disorder and depression.
“I started to experience mental health problems when working in a stressful position at management level. Young and pressured and within a role that conflicted with my values I found it difficult to cope and experienced a breakdown. Leaving work spiralled my depression further and I started to suffer panic attacks, leaving me to turn down friends’ social invitations. Things had got to the point where I could not leave the house alone.
“5 years came and went, but very slowly I began to get better. With support from my mum I attended a mindfulness course that helped me go along to a community gardening group, Green Synergy. And whilst I also enjoyed the haven my own garden gave me, little did I know then the effect that community gardening would have on me.
“The outside world at times still felt terrifying but with my gardening volunteering, I started to feel valued, was part of a team again and started to learn new skills. The act of tending to something, looking after it, seeing it grow and flourish was hugely rewarding too. I didn’t need to be knowledgeable and it was ok to make mistakes as a garden will never judge – gardening had become my therapy.
“When asked if I’d like to volunteer, assisting a project officer, I jumped at the chance. It gave me more responsibly but in a total manageable way and, like a garden, I was bursting with colour and ready for the next season so felt ready for the opportunity for a paid apprenticeship with Green Synergy when it arose.
“Whilst there can be days where it is not easy, working as a trainee community gardener, leading projects and helping others who suffer from poor mental health, addiction problems as well as children within the community, has given me the chance to give back and get others on their road to recovery. It’s wonderful to watch others flourish and thrive just like a garden – the garden really is a special place.”