I struggle with anxiety. I tend to take myself far too seriously and worry about things that don’t really don’t matter more often than I should. It’s safe to say I’m busy — I work as a marketing professional during the day and a wife and mother of two kids under four 24/7 — and each of my roles is laced with its own opportunities for stress.
Until recently, I didn’t cope well with my stress and anxiety. It was easy to spend weekends doing things like binge-watching Netflix, napping, or browsing social media from the couch. Don’t get me wrong, everybody needs downtime, but I took it to the extreme. To combat the guilty feelings I’d experience after a weekend of “doing nothing,” I’d schedule far too many activities for the next weekend: visiting the zoo, attending a local festival, and dinners with extended family both evenings. I was stuck in a rut of doing too much to effectively recover mentally from the work week or doing too little to adequately invest in my mental and physical health.
I’ll admit that when we made the decision to start a garden, I was in one of my “let’s do all the things” phases. But gardening turned out to be very different from the other activities I was used to loading our family’s time up with. The garden didn’t care if I took a shower before I showed up (but it would make sure I needed one later). It would be there whether we were ready at seven thirty in the morning or miraculously slept in past nine. The kids were welcome to scream as loudly as they wanted to and I didn’t even have to find their shoes. Jackpot.
Gardening Tricks Me Into Exercising
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention considers gardening a moderate-intensity level activity, which makes perfect sense because so many gardening tasks are so physical: weeding, shoveling, hauling, raking, planting, harvesting. Just two and a half hours of moderate-intensity activity each week reduces your risk for several diseases, like diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Several studies have shown that physical activity is associated with positive mental health outcomes as well, including treating anxiety and depression.
When I first started gardening, I didn’t realize how much of a workout it actually was. My body filled me in the next morning when my muscles felt just like they used to feel the day after meeting with my personal trainer. It’s hard for me to get two and a half hours of moderately intense exercise every week because I just don’t enjoy traditional workouts very much. You will never find me running or biking for eight hours in one day, but I’m pretty sure I’ve spent at least six working hours in the garden every available weekend day since April.
Gardening Turns My Brain Off
…Or perhaps it turns my brain on to the things that actually matter. I enjoy reading, meditating, and journaling, but when I’m having a bad anxiety day my mind quickly wanders. One minute Harry and I are battling Voldemort and the next minute I’m obsessing about how someone perceived that “super weird thing I said last week.”
There’s something different about gardening, though. I think it has to do with how physical it is. My mind is able to focus on the task at hand when I’m busy making sure I get the roots of the weeds out of the ground. Combine physical activity with a good Audiobook and there goes my afternoon — five hours go by and my thoughts are still right where I want them: plotting Voldemort’s demise.
Gardening Builds My Confidence
Planting seeds in the ground and watching them grow into foods that you can feed your family is a great way to boost your confidence. I will say, though, that Mother Nature does most of the work — with a little bit of research and a whole lot of muscle, I believe anyone can have themselves a beautiful garden. Nevertheless, it’s only human to be proud of the fruits of your labors. And, it’s awesome when you become the person that your network starts coming to when they have a question about a common garden problem.
Having that increased confidence in my ability to provide for my family, problem-solve, plan projects, and think creatively has translated into less worrying about whether or not I’m up for those tasks at my day job. So many of the things that used to send me into crisis mode have now become second nature — I know I can do them because I do them in the garden every day.
Gardening Makes Me More Social
I’m an introvert. Part of the reason I love gardening so much is that I don’t have to leave the house to do it. But, I’ve found that even though gardening is an activity I do on my own or with my immediate family, it’s made me much more social. I find myself much more willing to engage in small talk now that I have something that I’m so passionate about. We celebrated IPA day at work with other day with a hops smell test and I found myself taking out my phone to show coworkers I’ve barely interacted with before pictures of the hops I’m growing in my backyard. I have even sought out new connections in my community to learn more about their food production techniques; a couple weeks ago I requested a one-on-one farm tour, scheduled it, and proceeded to actually show up (instead of flaking out like I’ve been known to do).
So, thank you, garden, for helping me take care of my mental health. Tell me: how does gardening improve your mental health?