Did you know a green thumb and dirt under the nails can help alleviate depression? Studies show that gardening can make you feel happy in more than one way. Not only are you introducing healthy microbes from the soil into your life that add to the beneficial flora inside and outside your body, but you are also getting activity from squatting, pulling, and kneading. In addition to bacteria and activity, the concept of “earthing” where you spend time in nature, is also a contributing factor to an increased rate of happiness. As long as you avoid exposure to toxic, persistent pesticides like glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup Weed Killer), this activity is encouraged for the entire family.
Gardening Used as an Anti-Depressant
Studies have found that certain soil microbes affect your brain in a way similar to anti-depressants. The bacteria mycobacterium vaccae has a similar effect as drugs and stimulates serotonin production. Numerous studies link a lack of serotonin to depression, anxiety, bipolar issues and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The original study focused on increasing survival time in cancer patients. The bacteria was injected into the lungs of cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. The attempt was not intended to combat their cancer but offered another positive effect. They discovered that the bacteria helped with cognitive and emotional well-being. In other words, quality of life improved after the treatment. Patients treated with the bacteria were happier, had better brain function, and had more energy than the patients treated with chemotherapy alone.
Another study found that bacteria lit up neurons in the brains of mice. The neurons were responsible for transmitting serotonin and related to immune response as well. This shows a link between mental health and the immune system.
The study was replicated with mice navigating a maze. The mice navigated the maze faster after eating the bacteria in a peanut-butter sandwich. The bacteria’s influence was discovered weeks after the last doses were given.
Getting an Emotional High From Gardening
Some gardeners call it a ‘harvest high’ — that rush when the garden bounty is overflowing and all the hard work is paying off.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain. It is associated with pleasure and reward. Spending time in the garden and tending to flowers and vegetables can certainly give a hit of happiness. The brain can release dopamine at the sight of a ripe fruit, flowers blooming or harvesting herbs.
It has been suggested that gardening could be beneficial for those with mental illness. It reduces stress while being a challenging yet enjoyable activity. Further research dedicated to mental illness such as schizophrenia is necessary. However, preliminary findings suggest that active gardening may alleviate symptoms of mental illness when combined with other treatments.
Take Your Vitamin D In The Garden
A healthy diet and some sunshine will help keep the blues away. Just being outside in the garden on a sunny day helps you feel happier. People with depression and schizophrenia were found to have lower Vitamin D levels than normal. Light exercise in the sun lowered depression levels. Consequently, weed pulling and picking tomatoes on a sunny day is a perfect way to get your greens and your daily dose of sunshine. A pilot study in Abu Dhabi confirmed that time in the sun alleviated depression. Five to ten minutes a day a few times a week will give you enough Vitamin D. For longer periods of time in the garden, wear a hat and sunscreen to prevent sunburn.
Gardening Creates The Most Happiness When Children Are Involved
The act of gardening can also create a happiness feedback loop when combined with children. Multi-generational families benefit the most from gardening, where results are stronger when younger children are involved. A BBC Gardener’s World Magazine Survey found the results were stronger when gardening with children or grandchildren. And that makes sense because having someone spend time with a younger child fosters a stronger sense of belonging and family. So go ahead and make it a family affair! While you’re working on your own happiness, let the kids build up their immune systems, embrace the outdoors, develop long-term goals and grow their own food!
How to Keep a Healthy Garden
Are you ready to grow some greens to fight the blues? Having a healthy garden environment is key.
- Use compost in the garden. Plants need carbon in the soil. Use fallen leaves and vegetable scraps and compost them in a trench or container before adding to the soil. Or make a compost tea, avoiding manure as an ingredient to avoid E.coli bacteria.
- Keep soil hydrated and water deeply to help roots grow deep and provide moisture beneath the surface.
- Instead of pulling weeds, clip them off at soil level and use the discarded parts for compost. The roots left behind will help feed the bacteria.
- Know your pH. Get a soil testing kit and test out your soil to find out if you need to adjust it. The general notion is that beneficial bacteria thrive in near neutral soil.
- Bring in wildlife! Earthworms are awesome for aerating soil and decomposing matter.
- Avoid conventional herbicides and pesticides as much as possible for a safe garden environment for yourself and the bacteria. For instance, glyphosate may affect dopamine and serotonin levels in our brain.
Gardening Activities You Can Do With Children
When gardening with children everyone wins. Here are some activities you can try to teach children basics.
- Plant milkweed in the yard for monarch butterflies. Monarch butterflies plant their eggs on the back of the leaves of milkweed and the caterpillars eat the leaves later. You can either rescue the caterpillars and stick in a butterfly atrium until they are ready to be released or just let nature take its place.
- Swiss chard and spinach is very easy to plant and hard to kill
- Tomatoes are fun when they to pick and the harvest is plenty and exciting for the children
- Plant citronella around the patio to protect from mosquitos during the gardening season
- Plant lavender for the bees and educate them about the importance of the pollinators. Teach them not to fear bees because they really don’t want to sting you if you mind your business.
- Plant fruit trees which only need to be watered and tended to minimally but give another exciting harvest when ready.
Do you love to garden? What are you planting this season? Have you noticed a change in your mood when you started gardening? TELL US in the comments.