Have you ever wondered why getting into your garden or sitting out on the balcony can leave you feeling refreshed and energised in times of stress? New research shows that getting your hands dirty can be good for your soul, not just your garden.
A recent survey from expert garden problem solvers Yates shows that 71% of Australians feel social media and technology play a role in making them feel anxious. So in a world full of deadlines, packed schedules and Facebook scrolling, it's important to get away from our screens every once in a while.
Stemming from ancient Buddhist traditions, the practice of mindfulness has emerged in Western countries as a tool to help focus the mind and provide a much-needed antidote to the many hours of screen time we get each day.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment - a simple concept that can be remarkably hard to achieve. But just as Buddhist Zen gardens have been used for hundreds of years as places of meditation, so too can your backyard or balcony become a place for you to practice quiet reflection and master the art of focusing your thoughts.
"Being in the garden is my happy place. It helps me to unwind from a busy week as I'm focused on planting, pruning or picking the fruits of my labour, and I'm not alone," says Yates horticulturist, Angie Thomas. "We know that being outdoors in fresh air, focusing on a task in the present, getting our hands dirty and watching something we planted grow is great for our physical and mental health."
Here's why spending time in the garden after a long and stressful week can be beneficial to your mental and physical health:
Soil releases serotonin
Getting your hands dirty in the garden has been scientifically proven to increase serotonin levels through contact with soil and specific soil bacteria. Serotonin is a happy chemical that helps fight depression and boosts your immune system - something we could all use an extra dose of.
Decreased cortisol levels
Setting your mind to a gardening task, such as planting herbs in pots, allows you to focus your mind on the moment, engage in the natural world and reduce your stress levels.
Research conducted on allotment gardeners also found that - following a period of short-term stress - gardening helped significantly decrease their cortisol levels and boost positivity.
An all-natural high
Growing your own food in the garden or on your windowsill releases a chemical called dopamine, which activates a state of mild euphoria. Dopamine is the same chemical that is released when you notice your Instagram or Facebook post getting lots of 'likes' - but it's also triggered when you harvest, smell and watch fruit and veggies grow.
Once your hard work in the garden is over, pour yourself a cup of tea and take at least a few minutes to step back and admire your handiwork. Notice the colour of the ripening tomatoes, the bees thriving on the blooming flowers and the smell of the fragrant basil you carefully planted all those weeks ago.
Weeding, planting, mowing, pruning and digging can really work up a sweat and burn calories, making gardening an effective form of exercise. Physical activity has many stress-relieving benefits; pumping up your endorphins, helping you to sleep better and focusing your mind.
Unites the family
An easy way to get into the garden and involve your family is to start a communal veggie patch. When you share the sowing, growing and harvesting process with others, there's a fantastic sense of shared pride when it comes time to incorporate your harvest into a family meal.
"I can’t recommend getting outside and starting a veggie patch highly enough," says Angie. "It’s easy to get started with a trough or pot and a few herbs on a sunny patio or deck. Check seed packets to see what time of year is best to plant and use a seed raising mix to give them an extra boost."
You also don't need to have a backyard to reap the rewards of gardening. The same benefits will be enjoyed whether you have an acre or small patio.
"It's important to improvise and work with the space you have," Angie says.