We have all heard the maxim, “Stop and smell the roses.” Turns out, science agrees. The practice of mindfulness, the active effort to slow down, take notice and find enjoyment in the goodness all around, can have a very real impact on stress levels and overall health. Done even in small ways, like noticing a pleasant breeze or a front row parking spot, returns us to a positive state of mind. We live with increased gratitude that naturally follows from awareness the good things around us all day long. And where better to do that than in a garden, where flowers look and smell wonderful, veggies nourish health, and the natural rhythms of life express themselves? It can be hard to be in a constant state of gratitude all day, but starting with the time in the garden is a great first step in releasing and preventing stress.
Evidence-Based Approaches to Stress
There have been countless studies exploring the effects of gardening on issues related to mental health and physical wellbeing. They universally show benefits such as improved life satisfaction, vigor, psychological well being, and even cognitive function. Reductions in stress and anxiety, anger, fatigue and depression are also well documented. In fact, “Horticulture Therapy” is an emerging occupational therapy method for those with psychological concerns.
Physical Reactions to Stress
A major factor in the reduction of stress, anxiety and anger in gardeners can be attributed to the reduction of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and has many important functions for everyday life: the adrenals maintain balanced digestion, heart rate, blood pressure, and reproductive health. In times of stress or danger, they are the body’s warning system, triggering fear and the resulting fight or flight response. While that can be very helpful , in modern times cortisol production can also be put into overdrive over extended periods. Being stuck in traffic, a crummy boss, arguing online, even watching the evening news can all trigger cortisol release. Over time, too much cortisol leads to weight gain, heart disease, headaches, memory and concentration problems, digestive disorders, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Therefore, it makes sense that studies have shown a reduction in these issues when participants work in the garden. When a person is calm, focused and working productively at something they enjoy, cortisol levels decrease. No longer stimulated, adrenal glands can rest and biological functions can return to normal.
So get out there, get your hands dirty, make some green things grow and reap benefits beyond flowers and produce.
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