As we observe nature from our windows and through our gardens more than ever during times like these, RSPB England’s Communications Officer, Becca Smith, discusses; “how can the garden benefit my mental health?”

In recent weeks, many of us will have found ourselves stressed or anxious, but a glance outside our window, a feeling of the sun on our backs, or a breath of fresh air can help to ease our minds and give a sense of calm. Take it one step further, and a few hours of gardening can help us to take a break from the stresses of work, home-schooling, or organising that food delivery.

While we are in the midst of an unparalleled crisis, we must remember how, according to the mental health charity Mind (1), bringing nature into our everyday lives can help to improve mood, reduce feelings of stress or anger, and make us feel more relaxed.

Thankfully, nature doesn’t have to be “wild” to have a benefit, and there’s plenty to be found on our doorsteps. Even plants grown from our windowsills or balconies can give us the chance to escape the stresses of everyday life, providing an oasis to relax in when times are tough. If this wasn’t enough to inspire you to pick up a trowel or get planting seeds, we take a look at 6 ways enjoying our gardens can help our mental health ...

Living in the moment

While mother nature controls the seasons and the arrival of new visitors or fresh flowers, we can play our role in observing and considering the ever-changing cycle of nature. Considering wildlife while planting is also a great way to reap all the positive impacts your gardening can have, while benefitting nature too.  There is no sight quite like seeing the birds, insects and animals all enjoying your garden just as much as you, and no two days in our gardens or green spaces are likely to be the same. Seeing the seeds we planted last year suddenly burst into life, or the busying work of birds as they build their nests, can bring a great appreciation for the everyday and allow us to focus on each day as it comes.  

A sense of purpose

Not only is it extremely satisfying to see the fruits of our labour pay off, whether literally or metaphorically, but tending to our gardens can also bring a great sense of responsibility and purpose. During uncertain times, we may struggle to get out of bed in the morning or find the motivation to connect with nature outside. Tending to the plants in our homes and gardens and learning from our mistakes as we go can change this, giving a sense of importance to our day’s efforts and allowing us to feel productive.

Stress busting

Although picking up a shovel or hacking away at a tree stump can often act as a release of tension and frustration, smaller gardening activities can help to reduce stress too. Evidence (2) suggests that when we use too much focused attention while at work or completing a task, we can become stressed or feel under pressure.  Hobbies such as gardening can help relieve this by providing a sense of fascination, as well as allowing us to relax in a more natural environment that we can feel at ease in.

The power of sunshine

While we may not be able to jet off to warmer climes right now, thankfully our own sunshine can go a long way in helping alleviate some of the symptoms of stress. Getting out in the garden during daylight hours can trigger the release of the hormone Serotonin, which helps with mood stabilisation as well as feeling more positive and productive. Not only this, but exposure to natural sunlight can help to regulate our biological clocks by stimulating the production of the sleep hormone Melatonin, meaning we could benefit from a better night’s sleep after time spent in the garden.

Getting physical

The feel-good hormones called Endorphins are known to be released during exercise, but that doesn’t mean we have to hit the gym. Gardening is a great way to exercise, helping to combat high blood pressure and burning calories while putting minimal strain on the body. Gardening allows us to achieve all this while getting creative too - as an art form, our gardens can be a fantastic place to express ourselves.

We’re all in this together

While gardening can be a great hobby to do by yourselves (the plants certainly won’t judge us for our mistakes), there is a lot to be learnt from working together too. Although we can’t meet with likeminded others for the time being, investigating local allotments and community gardening clubs could provide us with a great place for collaborative working once we are able to socialise again. Learning from others and connecting through a shared purpose can help bring a new focus to our lives as well as alleviate feelings of isolation and demotivation – why not join a local community on social media or virtually for now?

While many of us are yearning to be back outside, enjoying the natural places we love, others are just discovering the wonders to be found in their gardens, local green spaces, or even from their windows. These places can act as mini nature reserves, and nature friendly gardening can bring many a rewarding moment as wildlife comes to visit. To find out more about gardening with wildlife in mind, see our handy guides here.

 In these uncertain times, nature doesn’t have to be “wild” to provide us with a sense of solace, and gardening on our doorsteps can provide many a health benefit both mentally and physically.  Many of us are appreciating nature now more than ever, and as, after all, our CEO Beccy Speight tells, “nature has a remarkable way of restoring calm”.

According to the mental health charity Mind, one in four of us in the UK will experience a mental health problem in any given year.  To find out more about their work and to access more support, please visit: https://www.mind.org.uk/

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