The Healing Power Of Gardening On Your Mental Health

But, while many people spend hours pottering around their garden - pruning shrubs and planting bulbs simply because they enjoy it, gardening can also have a positive effect on our mental health.

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It is National Gardening Week - the perfect excuse for the green-fingered among us to get outside.

But, while many people spend hours pottering around their garden - pruning shrubs and planting bulbs simply because they enjoy it, gardening can also have a positive effect on our mental health.

Mental health issues affect one in four people at some point during their lives and currently about 450 million people suffer from conditions, which places mental disorders among the leading causes of ill health worldwide. If something as simple as gardening could help, isn't it worth a try?

Nature has long been known for its relaxing qualities, helping us to find peace and tranquility. Have you ever noticed how much your spirits are lifted when in the fresh air, surrounded by sweet smelling beautiful flowers, alive with wildlife? Just gazing upon a garden when the sun is shining, the birds are tweeting and the leaves are blowing gently in the wind can be beneficial to your mental health, so just imagine what working in one could do.

Just for starters there are the physical benefits. You can burn up to 330 calories in just one hour due to the stretching, bending and lifting that is required to complete such tasks. And, you know what they say, 'a healthy body equals a healthy mind'. Exercise increases levels of serotonin and dopamine that make us feel good and lowers levels of cortisol, which makes us stressed.

Studies have also found that just 30 minutes of gardening can have a positive effect on mental health and it has been argued that if 'Horticultural Therapy' were to be prescribed on the NHS, particularly for mental illness, substantial savings could be made to the economy.

Research conducted by gardening experts Bakker found that 88% of people find their mental wellbeing a key benefit of spending time in their garden. Managing director Adrian Nind said: "A number of customers said that even just spending a short while in the garden before work can help de-stress before the day begins"

Kathryn Rossiter, CEO of Thrive, the UK's leading charity in the field of disability and gardening, said: "This comes as no surprise to us at Thrive. Ask any gardener why they enjoy gardening and time and time again they will say it makes them feel good. We learn new things and develop skills, which can then lead to an increase in confidence and boost self esteem. Strong social support is important for people with mental ill health, so gardening with organisations like Thrive and being supported by our horticultural therapists is shown to be a cost effective and proven therapy."

Keen gardener Elaine Kennedy-Thompson's experience backs up the theory. She explained: "I've been gardening for over 40 years. As well as living with fibromyalgia, central nervous system damage and arthritis, I often suffer with depression and find that my garden provides a much needed boost - particularly in the summer."

She added: "I give myself small things to do in the garden each year - things that I enjoy so that I stay interested - and gardening gives my self-esteem a significant boost. Little and often is the key!"

Gardening improves mood, as those with the spade in their hand can take their negative feelings out on it. You can vent frustrations while you cut back bushes and alleviate stress as you dig the soil, ultimately reducing feelings of unhappiness. Simultaneously, the calm and peacefulness of your surrounds will allow you to relax and unwind.

As well as this, gardening is a distraction, it takes the gardener's mind off troubles as they escape into the task, concentrate on the job in hand, and forget about any worries and concerns outside of that. It gives gardeners a sense of purpose - as they strive to avoid their plants wilting and dying - heightening mood, sense of self worth and self-esteem at the same time.

The Richmond Fellowship is a mental health charity which encourages people to head outside. Senior supervisor Jonathan Baker said the charity works with groups of people who really feel the benefit of joining gardening projects.

One user, who asked not to be named, said: "There is an element of being able to see the benefits of your input and work, nature can be very reactive to your efforts. What you get back depends on what you put in and this can be a very rewarding aspect and reflect life in general."

Another member explained: "Growing your own produce is itself a form of organic farming, providing you with a more natural or less processed food product. Using and eating this produce in your cooking will aid a healthier style and present physical health benefits which in turn aides better mental health."

They added: "There is a zen like, earthing and grounding aspect to working in the garden and with nature. It is important, in this digital age, to get outdoors and connect with it."

With all this in mind, perhaps it is time to dust the cobwebs off your spade, dig out the trowel from the back corner of the shed and start tending to those neglected flowerbeds. As the clouds disperse from over your garden and the flowers start to bloom, so too will you.