Weed Out Your Anxiety (No Green Thumb Required)

It’s been pretty dreary here in Maryland. It kind of suits the mood of the quarantine.

But over the weekend, the sun finally peeked out.

And even though outdoor activities are limited, it was nice enough to finally spend some quality time outside… and ease some of the anxiety I felt after being cooped up in the house for so long.

As my colleague Dr. Phil Roberts pointed out last week, anxiety levels are skyrocketing right now (and so are prescriptions for antianxiety meds). So any way we can reduce anxiety should be high priority…

Especially if it doesn’t require a prescription.

And that’s where my weekend activity comes in.

Finding Peace of Mind

Living in a city, I don’t have a lot of easy access to nature. So I have to sort of fake it.

But it doesn’t matter whether you live in the mountains, an apartment, the suburbs or by the beach. Anybody can add a little bit of nature to their lives.

So this past weekend, I donned my (mandatory) face mask and (optional) nitrile gloves and set out to my local home improvement store to pick up some soil and something to plant in my empty flowerpots.

Admittedly, I’ve always had a bit of a brown thumb. You name it, and I’ve probably killed it (not on purpose, I promise you). But that doesn’t stop my perennial attempts at putting together a decent garden on my back porch.

It’s the perfect excuse to get some sunshine, boost natural levels of vitamin D and still manage to practice social distancing.

While I’d love to be able to grow a functional garden with herbs and vegetables that I could pick throughout the year, that’s just not in the cards for me. (I once killed a mint plant in less than three weeks… Anyone who knows anything about mint knows that’s a real accomplishment.)

I’m just in it for the experience… and the hope that I’ll get to spend at least a little bit of time with some natural beauty before it wilts away.

Because while gardening is just one way countless Americans are coping with stay-in-place orders… it’s also good for our health in many important ways.

In the Weeds

A recent study looked at more than 20 large investigations on the effects of gardening. And the results are pretty clear.

The simple act of gardening not only has a positive impact on our health and well-being but also can be good for our mental health.

Building and attending to a garden connects us to nature… helping to regulate our emotions and decrease the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

This works because experiencing nature reduces the neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex – that’s the area of the brain associated with constantly thinking about mistakes and failures.

And the process of maintaining and caring for plants also forces us to engage in mindfulness. You have to pay attention to what you’re doing and not what your brain wants to think about. So even making sure you’re not overwatering or underwatering or that you’re picking the weeds out (and not fledgling seedlings) is helpful.

Engaging in mindfulness has a slew of benefits for our mind and body… It’s been linked to a decrease in blood pressure and an increase in better sleep.

It’s also been associated with increased attention. One recent study found that mindfulness can actually reverse brain patterns linked with a wandering mind, worrying and a short attention span.

So even though I know my zinnias and morning glories won’t last forever, I’m doing myself an important service along the way. And I definitely appreciated the distraction over the weekend.

Are you doing any gardening in quarantine? Do you have other activities to keep yourself busy? Let us know here.

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