GARDENING: WELLBEING FOR MENTAL HEALTH

It has commonly stated that “Mental health and wellbeing”  can positively affect almost every area of a person’s life: education, employment, family and relationships. It can help people achieve their potential, realise their  ambitions, cope with adversity, work productively and contribute to their community and society. Promoting mental health and wellbeing has multiple benefits. It improves health outcomes, life expectancy, productivity and educational and economic  outcomes and reduces violence and crime. Estimates from 2006  put the wider economic costs of  mental health problems at over  £110 billions per year. We can define wellbeing as “a positive state of mind and body, feeling safe and able to cope with a sense of connection with people, communities and the wider environment”. A key studies have   identifies five key areas for action to promote wellbeing : 1. ‘a life course approach’, 2. ‘a  positive start in life’, 3. ‘healthy later  years’, 4. ‘build strength safety’ and 5. ‘resilience and develop sustainable, connected  communities’.

Gardens, as well as the activity of gardening, have been shown to have a positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing as the result of both the physical activity and the use of the garden as space for mental relaxation and stimulation.  the outcomes of eco projects  across the countries are phenomenal. They described “Eco therapy as an intervention that improves mental and physical health and wellbeing by supporting people to be active outdoors; doing gardening, food growing or environmental work”. Based on a number of external evaluations, Eco therapy services  can help people to look after their mental wellbeing, support people  who may be at risk of developing  a mental health problem and help the recovery of people with existing mental health problems. 

Gardeners appear to be aware that gardening is good for their mental health. In a study, gardeners involved with “Gardening Programme” were asked why they gardened. After interviewing a number of gardeners, it was found that recreation (21%) was the most important reason followed by health benefits including ‘mental health’ (19%), ‘physical health and exercise’(17%) and ‘produce quality and nutrition’ (14%).

Besides the activity of gardening, viewing green space and being in  green space has also been shown to have positive effects on mental health and stress. For example, views over ‘green space’ in the form of plants at work can already improve performance. According to study “less green nature means reduced mental wellbeing or at least less opportunity to recover from mental stress”. It is observed that perceived neighbourhood greenness was positively correlated with mental health  (together with walking and social cohesiveness) and in this case more so than physical health.

More widely the theory that  access to restorative spaces(e.g. gardens) helps to restore people’s directive attention on tasks and  thereby improve mental acuity.  This has also been expressed as attention restoration theory(ART),  which has been studied and  reviewed in the cognitive benefits  of interacting with nature.

Children are purported to perform better mentally when they have access to green space and students when their view is dominated by plants rather than buildings and pavement. Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also relieved by  green space.

‘Life satisfaction’ is harder to define objectively than physical or mental health. Life satisfaction loosely describes a person’s  ongoing state of mind and contentment with their unfolding life but has no strict clinical definition. For example ‘happiness’ is a state of mind that most people strive to attain without perhaps needing to strictly define exactly what it is. There is good evidence that physical activity positively influences moods and state of mind and that gardening is beneficial in this respect.

Gardening when carried out in an uncompetitive manner can engage people in many different ways  and when carried through lead to feeling of achievement or having  succeeded. Simply completing a  physical task can also lead to feelings of contentment and relaxation. Certainly the rhythm of the gardening year and recycling of resources can help to ground people in natural cycles and this seems to promote a more general  feeling of wellbeing. It is found that those who are involved in gardening find life more  satisfying and feel they have more positive things happening in their lives than those who are not.

The theory of  ‘biophilia’  was first put forward by Edward O. Wilson and popularized in his book, namely ‘biophilia’(1984), which contends that humans have a ‘tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes’ and that knowledge about the natural world (especially plants and animals)  contributed to the survival of the human race and is thus innate. In practical terms this implies that people feel most comfortable in settings where they can identify with life processes.

The evidence suggests that optimal physical health and psychological wellbeing are linked to positive emotional environments and the natural environment. It has been suggested that these feelings are grounded in our evolutionary psychology as a species. For example, it has been suggested that the reason we find certain landscape features aesthetically pleasing is that we are attracted to those that have enabled the survival of our species. This includes features such as bodies of water, plants, animals and trees, all elements that are found in pleasing gardens. Even elements of gardening have the ability to trigger emotions in people. For example, flowers are a powerful positive emotion inducer and have immediate and long-term effects on emotional reactions, mood, social behaviour and even memory in both males and females.

Stress and stress-related illnesses have increased dramatically in   societies and indeed are increasing worldwide. Stress is expressed physically through increased muscle tension, increased blood pressure, increased pulse, increased sweat gland production, increased production of adrenalin  and hydrocortisone, and reduced digestive system activity. Long-term stress causes and aggravates many illnesses. These include cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, depression,  anxiety, thrombosis, digestive problems, chronic fatigue, aches and pains, allergies and increased  risk of infection. Prolonged stress  can be a symptom of or result in underlying mental illness.

Gardens seem to be able to to reduce stress in several ways: 1.  By simply allowing views of a green space or a (semi-) natural scene. Numerous studies have  shown that simply viewing a green space through a window can relax people and reduce stress levels  and this is expressed by, for  instance, decreased recovery times from illness and fewer stress  related incidents. 2.  By allowing immersion in a natural scene. A range of studies has shown that by simply allowing people to immerse themselves in a natural setting can reduce stress and  increase relaxation and improve  recuperation. This is certainly true of gardens as witnessed by the number of people who simply like to sit in their gardens at the weekend because it allows them  to feel connected to nature. The role of connectedness to nature. 3.  By actively engaging people in a natural setting. Perhaps the most effective way to reduce stress is to combine the effects of work(or exercise) in a natural or green setting and exercise in such a setting certainly seems to have  greater effects than exercise alone or exercise in ‘unnatural’ or even unpleasant settings.

On tested stress-relieving effects of gardening in a field experiment with 30 allotment gardeners either gardening or reading on their allotment for 0.5 hour, both, gardening and reading had cortisol decreases during the recovery period, however decreases were significantly stronger following gardening. Positive mood was fully restored after gardening, but further deteriorated during reading. This highlight that these findings provide the experimental  evidence that gardening can promote relief from acute stress.

After a research carried out in one of the country, it was found that people with access to a garden had significantly fewer stress occasions per year. They reported that people living in apartment blocks with no balcony or outdoor area had an average of 193 stress occasions per year. This was reduced to126 stress occasions if respondents had a balcony. Those with a small garden had 86 stress occasions, while the least stress was reported by those with a large leafy garden, who only reported an average of 65 stress occasions per year. They also found that the more often people used their gardens, the fewer stress occasions they suffered per year. In comparing gardens with other urban green spaces they found that while both were important for health, but having a private garden was more important.

By studying allotment gardening, a similar significant difference results found in perceived stress levels between the activity groups of ‘indoor exercise’, ‘walkers’, ‘allotment gardeners’, and ‘home gardeners’. Allotment gardeners reported significantly less perceived stress than participants of indoor exercise. An older adult sample of community allotment gardening with a particular emphasis on stress recovery again results indicate that allotment gardeners appreciate both ‘doing’ the gardening as well as ‘being’ in the garden/allotment landscape with a wide range of benefits to their health and wellbeing.

After studied the data which was  collected before, during and immediately after a 12-week therapeutic horticulture programme on four farms to  assess if a change in depression  severity, perceived attentional  capacity and rumination  (brooding) in individuals occurred. The results showed a clinically  relevant decline of depression (‘Beck Depression Inventory’) in  50% of the participants and the participants maintained their improvements in ‘Beck Depression Inventory’ scores at three month follow-up.

  1. To improve mental health, for people with acute or persistent  mental health problems or especially difficult personal circumstances, regular involvement in gardening or community food-growing  projects, or formal horticultural therapy, can: 1.Contribute to  improved social interactions  and community cohesion. Reduce the occurrence of  episodes of stress, and the  severity of stress and associated depression. 2. Reduce reliance on medication, self-harming behaviour and visits to psychiatric services, whilst also improving alertness, cognitive abilities and social skills. 3. Alleviate symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, such as agitation and aggressive behaviour, which  can in turn improve circumstances for carers. 4. Provide productive manual  activity and beneficial social interaction for people tackling drug and alcohol dependency. 5. Help people manage the distress associated with  mentally challenging circumstances, such as making  the end of life more peaceful, sociable and enjoyable for hospice patients.


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