How Gardening Can Be Good for Your Mental Health
Gardening or other types of plant care are known to bring us back to nature. Gardening allows us to bring a part of nature into our home or landscape so that we can enjoy it without ever leaving our home. This is beneficial for a number of reasons, especially during this pandemic when we are spending most of our time at home. There are some populations where taking care of a plant can be outright life changing. People who struggle with mental illness can find solace in gardening or horticulture. While gardening should never take the place of more professional help, we have seen that many mental health facilities are now engaging in horticulture classes for their clients. Let’s explore some possible reasons why.
With minds that betray us regularly, people with mental illness find plant care to be soothing. In different types of therapy, we are taught to self-soothe as a means of self-reliance and healing. Self-soothing is a skill that belongs directly in your mental health toolbox. There are many ways to self-soothe and relax but imagine talking to your houseplant or playing music for your houseplant. Or taking a walk through your garden and perhaps smelling the different flowers or sages and touching the fuzzy leaves of your kalanchoe. Using your senses is a way of grounding you in times of high distress or emotion. You can use these same techniques by inviting plants into your life. This practice is regenerative in concrete ways.
Having a plant or a garden also allows you to look after something that is low risk. Some plants have limited life spans. Some plants just do not do well and it is of no fault of the person taking care of it. Sometimes, you need more information when taking care of a high maintenance plant. Listening to your plant is an act of love. Teaching yourself how to care for your plant is an act of love. These are unselfish acts that can take us out of our struggles. And some plants, like a snake plant or a cast iron plant can handle it when our mental illness gets too big and taking care of a plant becomes too big. If one of your plants dies, well, that can be a loss but it is arguably a low-risk loss.
Horticulture and gardening can also teach life skills and responsibility. We have already said that plants die. But what happens when they live? And flourish? Or you see your plant struggling and try to figure out how to fix it? Caring for something beyond ourselves can teach us how to care for ourselves. This act can help us to have compassion for ourselves and for nature. Remembering which day to water your spider plant makes it that much more exciting when it shoots out a “spider” baby, right? But now you know what day it is and as small as it might be, you are following a schedule. Imagine that. It also takes us out of our heads, a space we occupy so frequently.
While plant care can help anyone, it can have significant benefits to those with mental illness. It will not cure a mental illness and we are not medical professionals. That said, plants can help all kinds of people, including those with mental illnesses.