Much has been written about the mental health benefits of gardening and the way in which time outside can be amazingly restorative. Gardening can also serve as a metaphor for attending to mental health. As spring approaches and as more opportunities for gardening bloom forth, consideration of the parallels can be interesting and enlightening.
Provide the basics
Plants need food, sun and a place to grow. Humans have similar basic needs, even though we get caught up thinking we need more gadgets and more complicated wish-lists. We thrive best when we are eating properly, breathing well, getting outside and feeling safe in our homes. Attending to the basics allows us to flourish.
Just as knowing where the garden begins and ends is helpful for planning bulbs and measuring for mulch, individual boundaries within our own life are critical. Boundaries can relate to things like when work ends, if phones are answered, or how quickly emails are addressed. Healthy borders on interpersonal relationships are just as important, being clear to say no and to say yes to the right people at the right time. Having some level of clarity and organization in daily life provides structure, meaning and purpose.
Appreciate the wide variety of life
Walking through a large nursery or a mature garden provides a renewed realization of just how many species of plants and flowers exist in our world. The shapes, sizes, colors and textures vary tremendously, and all add to the beauty of a garden in the cumulative effect. Similarly, our spouses, children, co-workers, and friends all come into our life with different strengths and weaknesses. It would be boring if we all looked, thought and relaxed in the same way. Embrace the variety, including in yourself.
Manage the weeds early
Those pesky weeds can really grow out of control but are so much easier to handle if they are pulled out before they get too deeply rooted. Similarly, in life, there are negative events and troublesome times that happen but are much easier to address if spotted early. Some people are lucky enough to have fewer weeds and others have many, but tackling them in a direct, up front way always work much better than denying, avoiding or allowing overgrowth to overwhelm.
Accept imperfection by stepping back for the larger perspective
There will be weeds that get through; tomato plants which don’t grow as tall as anticipated; and seedlings which don’t sprout–despite vigilant efforts, watering regularly, and tending with TLC. It’s not necessary to take this personally. Step back to admire the larger perspective, notice the things going well and choose to accept with kindness the notion of variance of success in our life.
Till the soil every once in a while.
Tilling the soil in a garden helps spread around nutrients and re-energizes the soil. Similarly, there is evidence that changing up one’s environment every once in a while is valuable. While we humans like routines and structure, renewing our environment by moving around furniture, painting a wall or taking a new route to work invigorates us with some new found energy. Although change is hard, changing it up has value.
So whether you are tackling a small balcony potted plant or acres of greenery, consider taking note of how tending the garden can inform us about attending to our bodies and our minds. Let the blossoming begin!
As spring arrives, more people will be digging in the dirt. Does gardening help you practice good mental health? ow.ly/jDTl4
— APAHelpCenter (@APAHelpCenter) April 1, 2013
Photo by M. Dolly via flickr