A few years ago, a friend of mine gave me some flower seeds and suggested I plant them on my balcony. Up until then, the balcony had been more like a place for keeping the bicycle and other bulky things, but that little bag of seeds seems to have changed everything.
Since then, I have turned the balcony into a garden – as much as a balcony can be a garden, that is. It turns out, getting my hands dirty with soil, looking after the plants, even talking to them (no, I am not a cuckoo) but overall, admiring their beauty, has helped me forget about work related problems, everyday quarrels and has created a stress relief haven for me and my family.
But, I don’t want to make this article just about me and my balcony. I want to make it about you and what you could gain with just a little effort that soon will become something you cannot go through the day without – gardening. Let’s look at the issue from the scientific and medical points of view and see what all the research tells us, shall we.
The results of a recent study conducted in the Netherlands suggest that gardening has the ability to fight stress better than some of the other leisure activities. A group of people were divided into two and directed to either do gardening or read sitting indoors after they have completed a stressful task. It was observed that the members of the group that took up gardening continued to be in a better mood for a longer period of time, compared to the other group. What’s more, the levels of stress hormone were lower in the case of the members of the gardening group.
An article that was published in the Journal of Health Psychology in 2011 noted that gardening for about thirty minutes helps to reduce the blood levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Mental Health Improvement
A 2009 Norwegian study followed up a group of patients who had been diagnosed as clinically depressed, to determine the helpfulness of therapeutic horticulture. These people with depression, persistent low mood, bipolar II disorder, etc., were asked to spend six hours a week growing vegetables and flowers. The study found out that the depression symptoms in as much as half of the group improved significantly and they were still less depressed after three months.
OK, and here is something that might sound strange. According to Dr. Christopher Lowry, assistant professor (integrative physiology), University of Colorado, Boulder, the harmless bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae, which is found in soil, when injected into mice increased the release and metabolism of serotonin. Lowry’s argument is that human beings evolved along with the bacteria as well as a number of friendly bugs and the absence of these in our current lives is responsible for throwing the immune system out of balance.
Studies have also shown that production of serotonin, the feel-good hormone, increases because of exposure to sunlight. Sunlight increases the production of melatonin, the chemical that induces sleep. Moreover, oxygen from fresh air acts at the cellular level to provide more health benefits. And, don’t forget mental focus and personal creativity that gardening induces.
Finally, here are some fast facts as to how the outdoor activity of gardening can help relieve mental fatigue:
- As exposure to nature relieves mental fatigue, your work performance and satisfaction improves a great deal.
- Urban living presents opportunities for balcony gardening and you can create a calming as well as inspiring environment.
- Gardening provides opportunities for physical activity which helps to improve cognitive function, memory and learning and alleviate symptoms of dementia, Alzheimer’s, stress and depression.
- Gardening helps to relieve ADD symptoms in children.
How Can You Maximize Stress-relieving Potential of Gardening
Bear in mind the following:
- Consider gardening as a hobby. Never make it a chore. Decide as to how much time and energy you can allocate for this activity.
- Connect with nature. According to research studies, spending time in nature helps to restore your attention, revive your mood and relax your body.
- Never have your phone with you. You will be distracted by phone calls, emails, texts and social media. And you don’t want that.
- Welcoming wildlife visitors, such as birds, bees and butterflies into your garden can further enrich your experience.
To sum it up, I know it sounds silly. But hey, it really works. The best thing is you completely forget the troubles and the only worry becomes whether or not your flowers have bloomed. And, as primeval as it sounds, it feels good. But, don’t take my word for it – try it yourself.
Author Bio: Lana Wilde believes it is the little things that give us most. While working from home, she has discovered a whole new universe by turning her balcony into a green getaway. It doesn’t matter whether it is big or small, the joy it brings is priceless.