Medicine for the mind: can gardening help beat depression?

Medicine for the mind: can gardening help beat depression?
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Medicine for the mind: can gardening help beat depression?

If you’re feeling depressed and under pressure, you’re not alone. Nearly a fifth of adults in the UK experience depression or anxiety. That statistic is according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which also states that more women report that they suffer from the conditions than men. With over-thinking and major life events such as family bereavement, leading to depression; anyone can be at risk of the illness. However, certain genetic variations may make some more prone to the condition than others.

While many are prescribed anti-depressants to help cope with depression by acting as a ‘mood enhancer’, they don’t work for everyone. But, can gardening help us battle depression? Many believe so, with reports suggesting 87% of people who garden for more than six hours per week feel happier. But why and how is this the case?

Child shelling green beans
Child shelling green beans

Garden with your family

Suffering from depression can drain you of all your confidence, so gardening as a family can be a great way in which to socialise within your comfort zone. Most kids love the garden – and spending time with you – so by creating fun tasks to improve your garden, they’ll instinctively have fun which will help lift your spirits. Why not try to grow a batch of dahlias with your little ones?

Certain friendly bacteria that’s found in soil can also work in a similar way to anti-depressants by boosting the immune system, according to scientists.

Someone wearing gardening gloves handing over a bowl of tomatoes
Someone wearing gardening gloves handing over a bowl of tomatoes

Grow your own produce

Why not try to grow your own vegetables? It’s believed that producing your own food can help you reconnect with our planet, its seasons and rhythms. Not only this, but tending to your crops will provide enough light exercise – at your own pace – to boost your endorphin levels.

With one of the primary causes of depression being a sense of feeling out of control, growing your own fruit and veg can help give back some of that power. It’s also thought that folate-rich foods, such as kale and spinach, can help lift your morale. So, what better way to boost yourself than growing it yourself?

Harvesting our own crops can also release the ‘pleasure chemical’ dopamine into the brain, triggering a state of bliss. This release can be caused by sight, smell and actually plucking fruit, so be sure to plant as many different edible options as possible and get that dopamine flowing!

Garden spade stuck into the ground
Garden spade stuck into the ground

Keep busy

Gardening is a great way to keep your mind and body busy while not partaking in anything too strenuous. Tasks such as digging, mowing and planting can keep you occupied for hours on end and always thinking, while being outdoors can increase serotonin in the brain. On top of this, the relaxing ambience provided by being outside can leave you feeling rejuvenated.

Dr Sheri Jacobson, a psychotherapist and clinical director from Harley Therapy, agreed with the benefits that being outside hold in combating depression. She is quoted in the Huffington Post as saying:

While I haven’t come across anyone claiming that gardening has single-handedly overcome their depression, as part of a wide set of tools, gardening can be beneficial in the battle against depression.

Being in the outdoors in more natural surroundings can help lift our mood as it brings a sense of simplicity and tranquillity which is therapeutic for many people.

Sprig of rosemary and half a cut lemon
Sprig of rosemary and half a cut lemon

Plant scented flowers

Scientists in Japan claim that inhaling scents released by plants such as lavender can alter gene activity and reduce any stress or depression you may be feeling. Aromatherapy, for example, is used as a form of alternative medicine and relies on scents such as this.

Other plants that are recommended for your garden include jasmine – its fragrance is supposed to help you sleep – and rosemary, which is said to improve air quality, memory function and banish anxiety.

Of course, for some, the thought of getting up and gardening may be a struggle. However, with so many potential benefits, it’s clearly worth trying to get into this hobby. Remember though, you’re not alone in your struggle, so be sure to talk to professionals and those closest to you if you’re depressed. There are many people out there with whom you can discuss your feelings.

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