Has The Pandemic Turned You Into A Home Gardener?
Why has gardening become so alluring as we spend our days at home?
At a time when stepping out to meet friends and families has become a distant dream, many of us have found solace in our little buddies at home: plants.
From naming and feeding them to nurturing them dedicatedly, plant parents have found themselves turning to these greens for calm, peace and stability in a time that has been particularly turbulent.
For Kriti, a lawyer and a friend, the six home-plants situated in a corner of her living room help fill the void she’s been feeling the past few months, living away from her husband and kids.
A social media glance would reveal that there are many others like Kriti, finding themselves drawn to indoor plants and caring for them with a commitment that they have never displayed before. But are anecdotes all that we have? Is there science to the soothing and reassuring gifts of gardening?
The Bigger Picture
Before we get into the specific ways in which the activity helps, let’s take a few steps back and recognise how we always find ourselves turning to nature in times of distress.
Kamna Chhibber, Head of Department, Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences at Fortis, Gurugram, says,
“Engaging with nature and the environment, in general, tends to have a very therapeutic effect on us. For most people, stepping out or going outdoors, whether it’s in their own garden, a forested area, or to the mountains, the experience is very relaxing. It takes you away from the constant rush of your daily life by disconnecting you from the hustle.”Kamna Chhibber
There is plenty of evidence to confirm this link between nature and psychological well-being. A review published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances last year provides points of consensus across the natural, social, and health sciences on the impact of nature experiences on cognitive functioning, emotional well-being, and other dimensions of mental health.
A wealth of studies have demonstrated that these experiences could lead to increased positivity, happiness and subjective well-being, a sense of meaning and purpose in life, improved manageability of life tasks, and decreases in mental distress.
“In addition, with longitudinal studies, as well as natural and controlled experiments, nature experience has been shown to positively affect various aspects of cognitive function, memory and attention, impulse inhibition, and children’s school performance, as well as imagination and creativity,” the authors note.
Considering all the potential ways in which working with gardens and plants could help, various organisations and experts have taken to and advised horticultural therapy for people who may be struggling. This approach uses plants and gardening to improve mental and physical health, and could be resorted to as a supplement to other forms of treatment prescribed to an individual.
Feel-Good Hormones, Distractions, Rewards: The Gifts of Gardening In Quarantine
In conversation with FIT, Dr Ekta Soni, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, took us through the basics. “Taking to any sort of hobby is therapeutic. It helps you channelise your mind and shift from a negative thought process to something more positive.”
She adds that working with soil is known to enhance feel-good chemicals in the brain such as serotonin and dopamine, making us feel lighter and happier. There is also evidence that a bacterium in soil called Mycobacterium Vaccae triggers the release of serotonin, which lifts mood and reduces anxiety.
“In these unprecedented times, gardening and nurturing plants can give you some sense of control, taking your mind off the many things that are not in your control. It is a safe, relaxing and rewarding activity that takes care of your energy and helps with emotional releases as well. It grounds you in the present moment and offers stability.”Dr Ekta Soni
The predictable rhythm of the garden helps against the uncertainty and unpredictability of the times we are in, she says.
Coming to rewards, there is hardly anything that could give the same satisfaction as witnessing the growth of a living organism - a growth that you have been an active participant in.
Kamna Chhibber speaks of this as she discusses the ways in which the activity gives you ‘purpose’ and ‘meaning’:
“The whole process of planting a seed, seeing it grow towards being a sapling and becoming a larger plant, witnessing the flowering process and enjoying it, it is very transformative. It makes you feel like there is a purpose to your existence. You feel a sense of growth in doing something so meaningful.”Kamna Chhibber
“It is not a very high-speed activity that would require you to look at multiple stimuli at once (something which happens when you are using gadgets). Gardening allows you to feel light and fresh because you are utilising your senses in a more relaxed manner,” says Chhibber.
Fragrance, texture, taste and sound - all senses are at play as you sow, cut, water, dig, and smell - taking your own time and relishing every step of it.
“I know so many people who have taken on this as a hobby during the lockdown because it even transforms their internal environment and gives them visual pleasure. The greens take over the furniture-filled room and offer a soothing, aesthetic effect,” Chhibber adds.
In the end, it is really about what gives you joy. For some, it could be reading, baking, cooking or exercising. For Kriti, it is checking up on her green leafy offsprings every morning and seeing them grow little by little. “It gives me hope,” she says.
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