Digging for Happiness: How Gardening Can Ease Depression by Maria Cannon
It’s no secret that spending time outdoors is good for the body and soul. However, working the soil may actually be good for the mind, as well. Studies have found that soil-specific bacteria triggers the brain’s production of serotonin , a powerful neurotransmitter that controls pain perception and mood.
Some researchers now believe that gardening may be as effective as prescription antidepressants in some patients. Soil microbes – specifically Mycobacterium vaccae – are a natural depression remedy and are found in abundance just under our feet. Studies involving M. vaccae have been performed on cancer patients with surprisingly positive results.
Depleted serotonin stores have been linked to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues such as bipolar disorder & OCD. This bacteria is promising for patients who wish to reduce or avoid side effects of synthetic antidepressants. And, exposure is as easy as digging in the dirt.
Exposure to beneficial bacteria isn’t the only reason gardening makes us feel better. Getting out in the sun further boosts the body’s serotonin production, eking out melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy. The human body is conditioned to be in the sun, as evidenced by our circadian rhythm – our internal clocks. Furthermore, lack of exposure to sunlight can lead to a mental health illness known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is literally cured by stepping into the sunshine.
Thankfully, you don’t have to have a green thumb or a horticulture degree to enjoy the benefits of sewing your own piece of land. There are a number of vegetables, including bush beans, beets, carrots, corn, peas, pumpkins, and spinach, that need very little attention once they take root. Bush beans and spinach are fast-growing greens that you can harvest early. This will give you a sense of satisfaction and help stave off depressive feelings. Growing your own vegetables gives you access to the kinds of fresh foods that contain high concentrations of vitamins — much more so than those shipped into your local grocery store. Vitamin B12, folate acid, and the macronutrient iron are all necessary for a healthy body and mind and are found in vegetables.
If you’re creative, you may want to consider an ornamental garden to help beat the blues. Cool colors such as blues and greens are soothing and maybe accented with warm yellows, reds, and oranges for a visual escape. Avoid concentrating white flowers together since bright white can disrupt the brain’s relaxation response. Plan your garden with flowers and shrubs of similar height, which, like an ocean sunset, will allow the eye to scan across the horizon without jagged interruptions. A small bubbling water fountain will provide the brain an auditory focus, which will help keep your mind on your gardening and off of the stress of the day.
And by the way, living in the city is not an obstacle for gardening as even a few small container plants can help you connect with nature.
Along with positive mental health benefits, gardening offers mild to moderate physical activity which is vital for all adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend least 150 minutes of activity every week to help control blood pressure and lower the risk of type II diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer, depression, and stroke. Working the muscles helps keep you flexible and ensures your bones and joints don’t go stiff from sitting for too long.
On top of the physical and mental health benefits gardening, maintaining your property also will increase your home’s value and save you money on groceries. Both of these can help alleviate stress and anxiety and leave you in an overall better mood.
So, what are you waiting for? Check out the map here provided by the Agricultural Research Services at the US Department of Agriculture to determine which plants you should plant and when.
Guerilla Gardeners would like to thank reader Maria Cannon for her thoughtful submission and enlightenment. We appreciate community gardening.