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Dig In: How Gardening Helps During Stressful Moments

April is here and it’s time to get out the trowel and seeds, and hit the garden. Gardening can be a stress reliever, which may come as a great comfort to those who are going through stressful times. Whether you’re chronically ill and facing entry into hospice care in San Francisco and elsewhere, or your loved one is about to attend hospice or has even recently passed, take the time to revel in the quiet moments. The garden is a serene place to do that.

We think it’s fitting that April is both National Garden Month and Stress Awareness Month. Here’s how you can dig in, get gardening, and reduce your stress.

Gardening Improves Mental Health

When it all gets to be too much and you need a break from worries and anxiety, heading out to the garden can actually improve your mental health. Studies show that gardening boosts physical and emotional well-being, with many social benefits as well, says GardenGate magazine. Whether you have a window box with a few flowers or a full-blown garden out back, gardens of any size can offer big benefits for the overwhelmed.

Chronic stress takes a physical toll, contributing to anxiety, depression, and disease, like diabetes and heart disease. Seeking out healthy ways to cope with stress and take your mind off what’s bothering you can do a world of good. When you spend time outdoor pulling weeds, watering your bounty, cutting a bouquet, and harvesting vegetables, you can reduce your levels of cortisol, a chemical produced by the body as a response to stress.

When those cortisol levels stay elevated in our bodies, they can boost the risk of depression, mental illness, weight gain, impaired immune function, and heart disease, says Forbes. But spending time in nature can even things out and keep levels under control.

One study showed that after just a half-hour in the garden, the cortisol levels of participants dropped and they experienced a mood boost by this nature-inspired activity.

Other Benefits of Gardening

  • Boosts the immune system: Regular exposure to soil microbes (they’re friendly, don’t worry!) boosts your immune system and reduces the risk of inflammatory disease, all while reducing stress at the same time.
  • Exercise and disease prevention: It takes a lot to maintain a garden. You have to get up and down a lot, reach, crouch, stretch, haul heavy bags of mulch, etc. All that is excellent exercise — you don’t have to run around the block or take a yoga class for it to be considered physical fitness! Plus, the fact that it’s fun makes the exercise workout positive and not like a chore. This whole-body workout helps with core strength, dexterity, and endurance. Did you know physically active people have a reduced chance of developing diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease? Studies even show you can cut your risk for dementia by up to 36 percent, which is important because 13 percent of Alzheimer’s disease cases around the world are attributed to sedentary behavior, says VeryWell Health.
  • Improved diet: if you are growing a fruit and vegetable garden, you can reap the rewards of your bounty by eating healthier. Adding fresh tomatoes to your salads or crunching on green beans right off the stock can encourage you to eat healthier, perhaps lose weight and feel better — all of which can reduce your stress levels.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Garden Experience

  • Unplug and get out there: Try to leave the world behind when you step into the garden. Don’t bring your phone with you, leave the headphones inside and limit distractions. You’ll lose a lot of the benefits of gardening if you’re responding to texts every few minutes or checking your Facebook feed. Studies show that multitasking can decrease efficiency, with excessive smartphone use actually increasing feelings of stress.
  • Incorporate stress-reducing designs: It’s time to get creative, even if you’re tending to a small garden. Tap into your imagination when selecting plants and color palettes. Choose what you love and what calms you. In general, stress-reducing gardens are similar to regular gardens, but they emphasize calming design principles and colors.
  • Live for the now: Try not to dwell on the challenges you’re faced with or the checklist of tasks you have to do once you go back into the house. Allow yourself to live in the moment: take in the gentle breeze, the chirping of birds, and the scent of the soil. You can also take this time to practice mindfulness, which is a stress-relieving technique.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Feeling stressed over the passing of a loved one? Trying to come to terms with your diagnosis? Relieve stress in the garden, or attend one of our support groups. You can even check out one of our memorial workshops, which often has to do with connecting to nature. Contact us at 888-978-1306 to learn more.