Get gardening to boost your happiness
Stressful days at work, money worries, poor diet and lack of exercise can all impact our mental health – how many days in the last month have you suffered from a low mood? It's normal to feel down or depressed at times, but if it starts to take over your life, you may need help. According to the mental health charity Mind, 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year (1). Statistics from 2009 show that 2.6 people in 100 will suffer from depression, whilst anxiety affects 4.7 in 100 people. Combined anxiety and depression affects 9.7 in 100 people in the UK – that's a significant number.
If you're experiencing low mood, anxiety or depression, you may turn to your GP for treatment, but what are the options? Treatment is usually a combination of talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and antidepressant medications, usually selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). The problem with SSRIs is that nobody really knows the effect they have on the brain – it's different for everyone, and whilst some people experience mild side effects, for others side effects can be more severe and can include:
These side effects usually subside after a few weeks or months of taking the medication, although sexual side effects can last for longer. For some people, the idea of taking medication to combat depression and anxiety isn't acceptable; they would prefer to turn to alternative medicine such as aromatherapy, homeopathy and Chinese medicine, to cope with their symptoms.
How gardening can help depression
Making changes to your diet, such as swapping sugary drinks for healthy smoothies and including more fruit and vegetables in your diet, can help boost your mood, as can getting more exercise. But being active doesn't always have to mean going to the gym or scaling a climbing wall – more relaxed activities such as walking and gardening can still help get those endorphins flowing and boost your happiness.
In 2012, The Independent reported that doctors planned to prescribe gardening on the NHS as a treatment for depression (2). Sir Richard Thompson, President of the Royal College of Physicians and a patron of Thrive, a UK charity which provides gardening therapy, explained, “Gardening costs little and anyone can do it.” He continued, “I have, for some time, thought doctors should prescribe a course of gardening for people who come to them with depression or stroke.”
The Green Gym
The idea of a 'green gym' that's free to use, can help you to burn calories and boost your flexibility and mood has really taken off in recent years, with TV presenter Alan Titchmarsh claiming gardening is 'great as therapy.' Gardening isn't just helpful for treating depression though, it can help those with mental health problems to improve their confidence and self-worth whilst enabling them to communicate with others. Spending time in nature just makes you feel good – here are five reasons why:
- Gardening lets you enjoy the fresh air (it's a chance to soak up some vitamin D from the sun) and it's good physical exercise
- Gardening regularly helps give your life structure, for example, if you're unemployed or retired
- Gardening gives you a sense of achievement and responsibility as you care for plants
- Joining a gardening club lets you meet new people
- It's fun and you can express your creative side
The charity Thrive provides volunteering opportunities and social and therapeutic horticulture courses across the UK – you can contact them independently or be referred by your GP or social services. You could even train to provide social and therapeutic horticulture to others.
The facts – does gardening boost your mood?
A poll of 1,500 adults conducted by Gardeners' World magazine revealed that gardeners are, on the whole, more satisfied with their lives. 80% of those who regularly garden were satisfied with their lives, compared to 67% of non-gardeners. 93% of those polled said gardening boosted their mood and left them feeling happy.
It seems gardening is not the most popular pastime in the UK, although it may be one of the healthiest. The poll also revealed that computing or gaming was the UK's most popular hobby, with 52% of respondents enjoying this regularly. Gardening came joint second with hiking and walking, with 43% of those polled gardening regularly.
Dr Sheri Jacobson, a psychotherapist from Harley Therapy, gave her views, “While I haven't come across anyone claiming that gardening has single-handedly overcome their depression, as part of a wider set of tools, gardening can be beneficial in the battle against depression. Being in the outdoors in more natural surrounding can help lift our mood as it brings a sense of simplicity and tranquillity which is therapeutic for many people, and in contrast to many urban workplaces.”
Why gardening helps you feel happier
The element of caring for living plants and being responsible for them can help to promote feelings of being worthwhile and important, whilst soaking up vitamin D and serotonin from the sun helps nerve cells to transmit messages, instantly boosting your mood. Research shows that short-term improvements to your mental health can provide long-term benefits for overall health (3).
Enjoy gardening this weekend
You don't need a huge outdoor space to enjoy gardening – if you live in the city, your garden could be on the rooftop, or maybe you just have a window box. You could even rent an allotment if you're interested in growing your own organic fruit and vegetables; what a great way to get your five-a-day! Whether your garden is big, small or somewhere in between, here are a few ways you can get out there and enjoy gardening this weekend:
Harness your inner herbivore
Sew vegetable seeds in pots or window boxes – we love radishes, lettuce, rocket and carrots – or plant some herbs such as basil, parsley and mint. Not only are these great for creating all kinds of healthy recipes, they'll also make your garden smell pretty damn amazing too!
If you're lucky enough to have a lawn, keep it looking lovely before the cold snap hits. Fire up your mower and get trimming; you'll burn calories and be left with a neat and tidy garden to enjoy.
Tidying your garden by pruning plants and removing dead stalks and leaves can be really therapeutic and helps your garden to look more beautiful. Whilst you're at it, consider planting something new!
Staying active by gardening can help to reduce joint pain, increase flexibility and boost your mood, whilst alleviating feelings of depression and anxiety – what's not to love? Make sure you wrap up this weekend as winter is definitely on its way!
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