Spring is coming. Nature’s recipe to beat depression is almost here, with its ingredients of sunshine, fresh air and exercise, courtesy of springtime outdoor chores. Those of you who like to garden already know this recipe well, and you’re probably just itching to get outside and get your hands in the dirt. For those of us not so inclined, here’s why we should listen to our green thumbed friends. After all, gardeners are seldom depressed.
Even cheery souls can get depressed after months of cabin fever and fighting nasty weather just to get around. If you live, like I do, in a place where Spring arrives sometime in June, the days will still be longer, there will be more light, and tulips and crocuses will start peeking out under the snow. Instinctively we feel brighter, but there is also real science behind why we feel better, and we can use that to make the most of the seasonal change.
Blue skies are a natural anti-depressant. When scientists first started looking into the psychology of color, they discovered that the specific shade we call “sky blue” has a positive effect on our brains. Of course, poets and songwriters have known this for centuries. Even the phrase “blue skies” is a metaphor for feeling fine.
Grey skies, grey mood, can be blamed partly on biology. The more we can get outside for a big dose of blue skies, the less depression we will feel.
To get fit, and gain confidence, think “wax on, wax off.” Working out in a gym is fine, but if it becomes too repetitive, we can forget that the purpose of strong muscles and bones is to get things done. In contrast, outdoor chores work lots of small, secondary muscles that seldom get used in circuit training.
The film The Karate Kid has a lot of fun with this disconnect between real tasks and fitness. When the slightly clueless teenager wants to learn martial arts, his new teacher slyly sets him to work painting his house and waxing his car. Eventually the kid learns that there was no better workout for the particular strength and balance he needed, than to work his muscles doing real chores.
Chores can also be aerobic, which causes you to take in more oxygen and may elevate your mood. Mowing and raking, burn loads of calories, which can help you shed a few winter pounds and the sluggish way they make you feel.
A sense of accomplishment you can see. Do you ever have days at work when you can’t really say what you’ve accomplished? There may have been meetings, phone calls, lots of computer time. You may have met deadlines, but it can be hard to beat depression if there are no successes you can actually see.
Cleaning up your home environment, however, leaves you with real results. Washing windows, weeding flower beds, cleaning gutters are not activities that are necessarily fun. But this kind of work gives you such a feeling of accomplishment that when you are done, you can stand back and be proud of what you are capable of achieving.
Taking care of things helps you count your blessings. I don’t know why this works, but taking care of things makes you appreciate them more. And the more you value things, the more you can feel how blessed you are to have them, and the less depressed you may feel about your life.
You don’t have to own a house to find something outside to take care of. Flowers on a balcony, enjoying the view from a newly clean window, washing your car by hand, can all help you feel more grateful for the space you call home.
Soaking off real dirt feels good. At the end of the day, a long hot bath can feel especially rewarding if your muscles ache from doing some real work. You can congratulate yourself for all you’ve accomplished, and let your depression just wash away.
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