The conversation about mental health has caused a significant shift in our attitude towards it and those of us who suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental health problems and illnesses. This had led to a discussion about what we do to look after not just our physical selves, but our emotional wellbeing too.
Mental health is a very personal issue and one that differs from one person to the next. This means that how one person maintains and protects their emotional wellbeing can be very different to how someone else does it.
The Health Benefits of Spending Time Outside
There is a common consensus that spending time exercising the physical self helps to maintain the mental self. There is also evidence that disconnecting from life and spending time in the great outdoors is also successful in helping our mental health. This begs the questions – is the garden the answer to our mental health and emotional wellbeing?
How does science say that gardening improves mental wellbeing?
1) A sense of responsibility
We live in an increasingly ‘connected’ world in terms of technology but the effect of this has been to divorce us from reality in many, many ways. People can go days, weeks or months without connecting with the reality of life around them.
In effect, we have absolved ourselves of responsibility. We may feed the cat when it asks, and we may cook a meal every now and then. But caring for plants, whether that is vegetable plants in the domestic polytunnel or flowers in the border, restores a sense of responsibility.
Not that this weighs heavy, but it does give a sense of purpose that at the end of a busy day, spending half an hour in the garden tending your plants and seedlings is the perfect way to end the day.
2) A sense of nurturing
Nurturing is something inbuilt to humans. It is our ability to care for and look after something we believe needs our help, care and attention. Parents nurture their children, and for the gardener, experienced or otherwise, plants need to be nurtured in order to thrive and grow.
This could be making sure they have plenty of water, to nipping outgrowing shoots to promote better growth habits to making sure there are plenty of plants that bees and butterflies love.
3) Connected with nature
It is difficult to convey to someone the powerful effect that immersing yourself in nature has until you experience it for yourself.
But there is something delightful about being in the midst of plants, shrubs and trees. From hearing the buzz of bees and wasps as their fly about or watch the beautiful colours of the flapping butterflies and moths.
And there is the scent that plants and flowers give off as the breeze gently caresses their petals. Some plants give off their sweet scent in an evening, as the heat drains from the day whilst other plants release their scent when their leaves are touched, such a lemon-scented geranium or the stress-busting scent of lavender.
4) Relax and let go
Tough day at work? How do you relax and let go?
A lot of the time, it is the relax and let go bit that we are not so good at. And this can slowly drain the vibrancy of our mental health.
There are different ways of relaxing, from enjoying a soak in the bath listening to the rain hammer on the window to dining al fresco amongst the bees and butterflies.
Tidying flower border, pulling a few weeds to bigger projects, such as building insects hotels or tending to vegetables in domestic polytunnels, by concentrating on something else other than what happened during the day, we learn to relax and let go.
And we do it without realising…
5) It’s easy
Everyone can enjoy the relaxing, stress-busting activity of gardening, whether you are experienced or a gardening newbie. From acres of landscaped gardens to a few ceramic pots on the balcony, gardening is easy. Unless you forget to water plants for weeks on end, you will get some kind of result that delivers satisfaction that in itself, bolster emotional and mental wellbeing.
What effect do you think gardening has on your wellbeing, physical and emotional?
Sean Barker is the MD of First Tunnels, and is enthusiastic about providing quality gardening supplies to gardeners across the UK