As the weather begins to warm up, the urge to spend more time outside gardening is steadily on the rise.
Charlie Hall, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulture and economics specialist, College Station, has done research to uncover all the ways gardening and plants can help better your mental health.
Growing greater happiness by gardening
“Interacting with nature, especially with the presence of water, can increase self-esteem and mood, reduce anger, and improve general psychological well-being with positive effects on emotions or behavior,” Hall said. “In fact, moving to homes with greener areas positively influences mental health even after three years.” However, doing your own gardening can have the same effects on your mental health.
Interacting with nature around puts the mind more in touch with the community, Hall said. Exposure to natural settings helps improve the human perceptions of emotional, psychological, and social benefits. Plants are a symbol of life and can influence those around them.
“The reason these social benefits of plants are so important is that when social bonds are severed, or simply absent, society suffers,” he said. “At a time when the polarization and
fragmentation of society is of growing concern; we need to actively seek ways to strengthen human connections among us and build stronger communities.”
“Many of these social benefits experienced during exposure to plants have been documented in both the built environment and the natural environment. We have the ability to build our environment and create gardens to help reach these social and mental benefits plants influence.”
Being immersed in nature and vegetation were used as active components in a therapeutic horticulture intervention for clinical depression in 2018, said Hall.
“Garden walking and reflective journaling decreased depression scores in older adults.”
Outdoor gardening and plant care exposes people to sunshine and high amounts of vitamin D, a synthesizer of serotonin. Serotonin is the chemical in brains that induces happiness.
Plant filled homes and areas also can boost memory and heighten your attention span, he said. Overall mood improves greatly after spending time in nature.
Reduced anxiety and stress
In high stress times and environments, gardening lends an outlet for keeping the hands and mind busy, Hall said. Hands-on activities like gardening allow the brain to focus on another task.
“Consumers have historically shown an inclination to purchase plants that enhance their quality of life, meaning they will purchase items that positively influence their social, physical, psychological, cognitive, environmental and spiritual well-being,” he said.
“Increased access to green spaces also reduces psychological distress, depression symptoms, clinical anxiety and mood disorders in adults,” Hall said. “Stress reduction and mental restoration occur when individuals live near green areas, have a view of vegetation, or spend time in natural settings.”
Gardening and plant care provide physical activities for people to do, distracting the mind from the things that are stress inducing. Humans have an urge to be surrounded by nature and tend to be in a more relaxed state in a greener environment, Hall said.