3. GARDENING FOR MINDFULNESS AND STRESS MANAGEMENT
Experiencing stress is very unpleasant at the time – it makes controlling your emotions more difficult than normal, for example. But the long-term effects of stress on your body can also be severe. Stress can affect your weight, increase your blood pressure, weaken your immune system and bring on early signs of ageing.
Whilst some areas are out of your control, it’s a good idea to manage how you cope with stress. Some people find listening to music helps, while others use yoga as a coping mechanism. Indeed, exercise is a great way of working off the stress of a bad day in the office because it releases endorphins, the body’s own natural feel-good hormone.
Why you should consider gardening for general wellbeing
You may have heard many gardeners say ‘it makes them feel good’. This is partly because of the endorphins released during exercise, but there’s more to the feel-good factor of gardening than that. Spending time in the fresh air, clearing your brain and revitalising your senses, leaves you feeling rejuvenated.
It’s rewarding and stimulating, as you can immediately see the effect on yourself and your garden. Gardening is a way of interacting with your environment, learning about the cycle of nature and respecting how living things require not only time, but nurturing, to flourish.
What is mindfulness?
The state of being conscious or aware of your present moment, all the while calmly accepting your feelings and thoughts, is known as mindfulness. It’s a meditative or therapeutic method used to find peace in an otherwise frantic world.
The NHS has endorsed mindfulness, stating that “becoming more aware of the present moment can help us enjoy the world more and understand ourselves better.”
And the garden is a great place to connect with your surroundings and practice achieving such a mental state. Here, nothing is instant and you’ll find the grass beneath your feet the perfect mediation mat. You can’t jump ahead to the end result – you’ve got to wait until your plants flourish. As much, when gardening, you’re naturally directed towards being present in the process.
A huge part of mindfulness is reconnecting with the sensations we experience – waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. You can pay attention to rich smell of blossoming flowers, taste the first crops of your harvest and feel the dirt between your fingers.
Essentially, you’re getting a sense of being part of something bigger and giving yourself time to feel rebalanced and centred. That way, you’re ready to navigate the inevitable ups and downs of life.
How gardening can help you with stress management
What’s more, being practical with your hands can help calm a busy mind and if your thoughts try to wander back to stressful topics, you can refocus on the immediate sensory experiences around you. It will take time for this practice to become normal, but it ensures gardening helps manage your stress.
You enter a point that psychologists call ‘flow’ – a term used to describe your state of mind when you’re completely absorbed in an activity. It’s a feeling closely associated with mindfulness and provides your brain – and body – a complete break from any stress. It’s why people often describe getting ‘lost’ in gardening and end up spending hours outside. There’s also the satisfaction of knowing you made your garden as good as it is.
“A garden requires patient labour and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.”
Liberty Hyde Bailey
Not convinced you have the time?
If you’re time-short, a great way of getting into gardening is to kick off the hobby with a raised vegetable patch. You can buy raised wooden beds at any good garden store and fill them with quality soil. This restricts the amount of space you have to tend to and helps protect the crops from pests. It’s also great if you have mobility issues, since you won’t have to bend down to reach.
Depending on how deep your bed is, you can grow a variety of vegetables. Broccoli, cabbage, spinach and garlic only have shallow roots. On the other hand, parsnips, asparagus, sweet potatoes and rhubarb require deep rooting space. Kale, peas, carrots and peppers fall in between the two.
Alternatively, you could fill your space with plants whilst experimenting with colour and shape.