Over the last year, my role has shifted some to one with a greater focus on community outreach, which has awarded me quite a few new opportunities. One of which is working with a local community garden. And let me tell you, it is really turning out to be a beautifully rewarding project. As I was weeding the tomato bed the other day, I started to think about how gardening has a wide variety of benefits that can support us on our journey. There is a powerful parallel between the slow, nurturing growth of plants and the slow, nurturing growth of ourselves in the recovery process. There are lessons to be learned while helping these seeds to grow and prosper: patience, compassion, self-confidence, accountability and more. While growing flowers and plants and fruits and vegetables and herbs, I am finding that I can grow a lot myself, too.
Gardening can help alleviate depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles and can improve physical health. For thousands of years, doctors, who treated royalty, understood the benefits of being outdoors and around growing things. As a result, the properties of many castles and palaces included vast gardens. Over time, doctors and gardeners alike, saw that spending time watering plants, weeding, digging in the dirt, and encouraging living things to thrive often had amazing results on the mind. Spending time in nature and working with plants increases feelings of serenity, reduces mental health difficulties, and improves overall well-being.
Gardening helps to:
Focus on the positive. It can be easy to dwell on cravings, the past or the trials we face in our recovery if we don’t occupy our minds and spare time. Gardening is a great option for us to stop looking inward and instead focus on the beauty that’s surrounding us. Or if you are like me, need time to work through things, rather than temporarily forget about them, gardening is very meditative and provides a great opportunity for me to work through my problems.
Learn to be patient with growth. Gardening is a practice of patience; it takes time to see the fruits of your labors. Though you may spend every day watering a plant and adjusting its surroundings to let in ample sunlight, several weeks might pass before you see any sign that your efforts are working. Recovery can feel very much the same; recovery involves making small, daily decisions to stay committed. The more time you spend gardening, patiently waiting for your plants to sprout and grow, the more you’ll recognize the importance of diligence and being patient with yourself.
Reduce stress. Gardening might even reduce stress more than other leisure activities we know of, such as taking a nap or reading. There’s just something elemental about putting my hands in dirt after a long day. Others enjoy getting to focus on something menial in silence. Other’s love being surrounded by nature and listening to the sound of leaves gently brushing in the wind around them. Gardening promotes compassion and gratitude as well; simply being surrounded by beauty on a daily basis reminds us that life is beautiful and worth living. And there’s almost no words for the satisfying feeling of well-being and purpose that comes with experiencing the fruits of your labor at the end of the season.
Improve physical health. Working in a garden is great exercise; raking, hoeing, and digging can be very physically challenging. The benefit of being outside in the sunshine while gardening is a boost in Vitamin D. And gardening gives you access to extremely fresh produce with lots of nutrients that can help you rebuild the immune system that was destroyed during active use. Not to mention the powerful effects of just getting fresh air.
One central principle of sustaining recovery is to replace old habits with wholesome new ones. With its ability to reduce stress, improve physical health, and strengthen self-esteem, maybe gardening will be
the very thing that becomes a new hobby in your recovery. And since it is such a diverse hobby, [indoor herb gardens, backyard vegetable gardens, front yard rose gardens, etc…] chances are there’s at least one type of gardening that speaks to you.