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Why gardening during a pandemic is so comforting

Source: Andrew Keshner & By Kristen Rogers

There are certain very stabilizing forces in gardening that can ground us when we are feeling shaky, add sun, water and a ‘positive attitude’ and you’re on your way!

Caring for a garden can be a respite from the horrors of the pandemic, as it serves several natural desires related to accomplishment, community and

belonging and staying connected with nature. It can get partners and the whole family outside, happily bonding while doing an activity together. It can also help to alleviate food insecurity as some incomes dwindle and concerns about the food supply grow. "There's just a greater cohesiveness within the family unit that occurs outside with your hands in the dirt," said Charlie Hall, professor and Ellison Chair of the department of horticultural sciences at Texas A&M University. "There's not as much eye-rolling when teenagers are told to do something, not as much fighting between siblings. There's fewer harsh words between spouses."

Fulfilling human needs

Getting your hands in the dirt keeps you connected to nature while we're staying indoors more these days. The orderliness gardening requires, with its rules and rows, can carry over into the manageability of other life tasks, Hall said. And the calmness of the activity may relieve some pent-up frustrations.

"Your cortisol levels go down dramatically when you're in the midst of gardening," Hall said. "And cortisol is the stress hormone in your body, so you're less stressed."

There's a risk-reward ratio inherent in gardening. You have to learn to balance weather that may thwart your efforts. But that experience bears sweet tomatoes or refreshing cucumbers -- offering a tangible sense of accomplishment when we're floundering around, looking for something to focus our minds.

"You're able to see the fruit of that effort," Hall said. "That's a teachable moment in people's lives."

And gardening may have a fitting philosophical lesson for us during this time.

"Sometimes pruning occurs," Hall said. "That's where the [correction in times of stress comes from]. You prune a plant so that it's even healthier when it comes out from its pruning."

As plants need water, fertilizer and sunlight to grow, we're nurtured by challenge and engagement with things we enjoy, Hall added. And when plants grow so well they outgrow the space in which they're needed, gardeners must replant them in a different space where they have the room to thrive.

"People move up into bigger areas of responsibility during their careers. There's all kinds of metaphors that come out of gardening and how it applies to everyday life," Hall said. "Sometimes you have to be transplanted into areas where you could grow even further."

Good for your overall health

Gardening can be a coping mechanism during this unsettling stage of life, but it also comes with benefits for your physical and mental health.

One study found gardening, among other leisurely activities, may prevent brain shrinkage in older adults. Our cognitive abilities, including learning and memory, largely depend on the size of our brains.

Gardening has also been connected with mindfulness and alleviation of depressive symptoms. It's a mild form of activity offering respite from staring at your screen all day. And it can improve hand-eye coordination and finger flexion -- the ability to bend your joints -- that carries over to everyday life.


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