Gardening is a highly gratifying activity that gets you up, moving, and out in the fresh air. For those who grow a vegetable garden, it can even feed your family fresh, home-grown food. There’s nothing quite like digging your own two hands into the soil and watching the fruits of your labor blossom. While gardening has many benefits, one of the most notable perks is the positive impact it can have on your mental health.
We live in a stressful, fast-paced world that can wreak havoc on our emotional and mental wellbeing. A garden is not only a space for flowers, plants, fruits, and vegetables to grow, but for humans to relax, unwind, and get back in touch with nature. In this article we’ll talk about how to use gardening for stress relief, and how you can create your very own zen garden to enjoy. Additionally, you can explore these gardening blogs that offer a wealth of knowledge and inspiration for harnessing the calming effects of gardening.
How Chronic Stress Affects Your Health
With stressful jobs, hectic home lives, and around-the-clock access to global news, it’s important to learn how to alleviate stress and care for your emotional wellbeing. It’s no secret that chronic stress is detrimental to your overall health. Your nervous system responds to stressors by flooding your body with the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This process is a defense mechanism that makes your heart beat faster, elevates your blood pressure, and causes you to breathe more quickly. This stress response, commonly referred to as the fight-or-flight response, is designed to give your body the resources it needs to either fight off a threat, or flee from a dangerous situation. Unfortunately our modern lifestyles often keep us stuck in a chronic state of fight-or-flight, which can have adverse effects over time.
When your cortisol levels are elevated for an extended period of time, you are at an increased risk of a myriad of health conditions including:
- Weight gain
- Digestive issues
- Muscle pain
- Sleep disturbance
- Trouble concentrating
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
With so much at risk, it’s important to incorporate activities to improve mental health into your daily routine.
Gardening helps combat these effects by providing physical activity, stress reduction, and even nutritious foods. The best part about gardening is you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home to enjoy it!
How Gardening Reduces Stress
There are many reasons why gardening is an ideal activity to reduce stress. Tending to a garden requires a routine, and gives you something to look forward to each day. Having a daily routine can alleviate general anxiety, make you more productive, and allows you to conserve some mental energy by having a predictable schedule. The less time you have to spend each day wondering what will happen next, the less stress your mind and body have to endure.
Gardening tasks such as weeding, watering, pruning, and digging are also very repetitive and rhythmic activities. As you settle in, these tasks can often become meditative and allow you to zone out for a while as your brain takes some much-needed time to rest. During this time you can listen to your favorite music, an uplifting podcast, or simply enjoy the sounds of nature around you. Being out in the garden provides a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a scientifically-proven stress reduction technique that has been studied by experts for many years. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to practice mindfulness in the garden. Pay close attention to how the sun feels on your skin, the texture of the plants as you prune them, the fragrant flowers, the scent of fresh herbs or vegetables, the colors of all of the plants blooming around you, and the sound of the birds chirping or the water gently trickling over the leaves. As you make your way through each task, take a few moments to let your mind focus only on your breathing, allowing thoughts to come and go without dwelling on them. You can also work on mindful movement by paying attention to how you are positioned and how your body moves through each task.
A great way to set yourself up for success is to create a peaceful, calming environment in your garden to make it feel like a personal oasis that you can escape to whenever you need a mental health boost.
How to Create a Zen Garden
How you design your garden will depend largely on your personal needs, preferences, and the location of your space. However, there are a few general guidelines you can follow to build your own zen garden.
Block and Replace Unwanted Noise
If you live in a noisy area, your first step might be to create a sound barrier to block out any noise caused by traffic or a busy neighborhood. Depending on the severity of the noise pollution, you can install a beautiful brick wall, or noise-blocking plants including evergreen trees such as spruces, pines, and hollies.
To further filter the outside noise, try to plant your vegetation more densely to help muffle out sounds that may be disruptive. By strategically planting your trees approximately 10 feet apart, you will encourage them to grow upward rather than outward to create a natural barrier that will absorb more sound. Vertical plants also offer more privacy and create a sense of enclosure This is essential for building a peaceful environment, and also helps filter out some of the distractions that may prevent you from fully relaxing and enjoying your backyard sanctuary.
After drowning out unwanted noise, you may want to consider replacing them with more peaceful, natural sounds. A great way to do this is to install a waterfall or water fountain in your garden to enjoy the soothing, ambient sound of trickling water. If you find the sound of songbirds more appealing, consider installing bird feeders or bird baths to encourage them to flock to your garden. Additionally, wooden or metal windchimes make a wonderful addition to any home garden as they make music while swaying in the wind.
Once you’ve blocked out the noise and filled your garden with soothing sounds, you’re ready to begin building your own personal sanctuary.
Clear Out Debris and Overgrowth
Trying to relax in a messy, cluttered garden can have the opposite effect and lead to even more unnecessary stress. Before creating a safe haven, it’s important to first clear out the clutter and get rid of any unwanted overgrowth, vegetation, or general messiness. Perhaps you have a collection of old toys or yard equipment rusting in the corner. Or maybe you have some sections that are overgrown with weeds. Before designing your zen garden, focus first on giving yourself a clean slate to work with.
Choose Lush Greenery
Although colorful accents are important in any garden, be sure to incorporate plenty of lush greenery and foliage to help set the tone and even provide some year-long color. Hearty hedges, evergreen trees, or even ornamental topiaries will give your garden a peaceful foundation, while seasonal plants and flowers offer a fun pop of color.
Designate a Rest Area
To fully enjoy your beautiful, lush garden, be sure to create a designated rest area where you can enjoy the sights, sounds, and scents of your backyard oasis. This area can be big or small depending on the size of your space and your preferences, and can include a comfortable seating area where you can sip some iced tea or lemonade on a hot summer day. Your rest area should include plenty of shade to keep you cool, and don’t forget to choose a location that will give you an optimal view of the entire garden. You may even consider planting some edible plants around your rest area so you can reach for a fresh tomato or basil leaf to munch on as you enjoy the tranquility.
Attract Some Wildlife
Be sure to incorporate plenty of wildlife-friendly plants so the birds, bees, and butterflies can enjoy the garden with you as you sit back to relax and enjoy the serenity. Watching the bees hop from one flower to another as they pollinate your garden, or the birds splashing in the birdbath, can serve as a beautiful distraction from your busy life. It can be a sweet reminder to take a step back, breathe, and enjoy the simple moments in life. It may even give you a newfound appreciation for your local pollinators as you watch them hard at work as they help your garden thrive.
As hundreds of mental health blogs and experts state, mental health is imperative for good physical health. Our modern world is filled with distractions that keep us stressed, anxious, and disconnected from nature. Creating a zen garden in your own backyard will provide a space for you to unplug and recharge in a tranquil space that you built with your own two hands. Not only is the act of gardening a stress reliever in and of itself, but sitting back and relaxing as you enjoy your surroundings and the fruits of your labor is a gratifying and peaceful experience. It is the perfect way to escape from the stress of daily life for a while, and practice mindfulness to help melt your troubles away.