A group of people gardening together around a raised bed
Research shows two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes. Stress is a key factor and one gardening can help tackle.
A happy person among a field of sunflowers
A happy person in a field of sunflowers

Managing stress can help us go a long way to tackling a wider range of mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.

You may instinctively sense that you feel better when spending time in gardens or nature. This positive feeling has been confirmed by scientific research:

  • A study by Mental Health Foundation into Mental Health and Nature found that how much we notice, think about and appreciate our natural surroundings can be critical for supporting good mental health
  • Gardening helps release seratonin and endorphins. These are our body’s natural feel-good hormones that promote mental wellbeing
  • Attention restoration theory (ART) was developed by the Kaplans in the 1980s. The theory is people can concentrate better after spending time in or looking at nature. Their work shows the powerful impact gardening can have for people with a range of mental health needs.

When you garden with others, the benefits are huge. It gives a sense of belonging, of being part of something. You don’t need a high level of skills to be part of it and it helps combat social isolation. Something we see every day at Thrive.

Kathryn Rossiter, CEO of Thrive
A beautiful paved garden full of herbs in beds
A beautiful paved garden full of herbs in beds

The following five ways to wellbeing have been developed by the New Economics Foundation (NEF). These can help support mental wellbeing, including tackling stress:

  • connect
  • be active
  • take notice
  • keep learning
  • give

Through gardening and time in nature, we have the opportunity to touch on on all five of these.

Further to this, the WWF has developed 5 ways to connect to nature to help our wellbeing. These are:

  1. Seek out green spaces
  2. Relaxation and mindfulness
  3. Interacting with wildlife
  4. Creativity
  5. Gardening, conservation and farming
Jeremy G mowing Charlie Garner 2019 2
A person mowing the grass

There are many different activities you can do in gardens and nature to relieve stress. It really is a question of what is most enjoyable for you - and that may change from week to week, or day to day.

At Thrive, we encourage people to use the garden as a place of relaxation. It is somewhere to enjoy gentle exercise and simply breathe in the fresh air.

Gardening is a great way to be active, and on your terms. Whether you prefer the physical acts of digging and mowing the lawn, the satisfaction of growing then cooking vegetables, or simply like strolling outside in nature, you can find what suits you.

Here are some things you may like to try. After an activity, think how you felt while doing it. This should help discover the activities that are most beneficial for you.

Cut the grass – the physicality of mowing can release endorphins which make you feel good.

Sow seeds – nurturing plants can give a continued focus point and hope for the future.

Tidy up – get a sense of achievement and control by transforming a neglected area of your garden. Activities like sweeping the patio can also bring positive results quickly

Fill a bird feeder - you can then enjoy observing the different species that come to feed. Focusing on the simple, natural rhythm of wildlife can give you a break from thinking about your own stresses

Grow herbs – you could try growing new plants from cuttings of rosemary and thyme. This gives a sense of motivation and purpose, along with the benefits for your diet.

Weed or water - these regular tasks can have a meditative quality and are a diversion from stressful thoughts.

Take a walk – this could be a stroll around your garden, or longer walk in a nearby green space. You could count plants in flower as something to occupy your mind as you move.

Do some creative work - if you would like the benefits of gardens and nature indoors, be inspired to do some creative work. You could write a poem about the seasons, a short story about a place in nature you love or do a pencil sketch of a plant or leaf

Would you like more ideas for activities in gardens and nature? Sign up for free to our Gardening Club at the bottom of this page. You could also take our free online course, Cultivating Wellbeing. Find the link below.

Written in collaboration with
Mental Health Foundation

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