Jasmine (not her real name) is a child psychotherapist. She became a volunteer at a Community Garden in July 2020. During following lockdown periods, when the Garden was closed to the public, volunteers without gardens were given a key so they could use the space whenever they wished.
Becoming a Community Garden volunteer has been a lifesaver for me during this pandemic. Like many people who live locally I don’t have my own garden and the Community Garden has provided a place to be. It has been enjoyable, friendly, safe, and incredibly beneficial both physically and mentally.
Most medical professionals treat them as separate, but most mental health professionals know already that our minds and bodies are completely inseparable and that one has an effect on the other.
So, the exercise of gardening, like other types of exercise, triggers the release of endorphins, relieving pain and producing a feeling of well-being. Lack of exercise in the winter months and during lockdown increases your risk of anxiety and depression. Every modern well-trained psychiatrist would rather prescribe exercise and fresh air before drugs if possible. We associate nature with recreation and relaxation, which can help enhance our mood. Growing things has a sense of achievement to it which is different from a business deal or a great presentation, it is growing life. Life that emotionally, physically, and some would say spiritually, sustains us.
Sunlight or even natural daylight triggers the brain to release the hormone serotonin. It helps people to feel calm and focussed, boosts their mood and reduces anxiety, regulates sleep and our circadian rhythm. Coming to the Community Garden, going to the park has helped me keep my routine and mental health
Dealing with COVID-19 has been utterly exhausting for everyone; it has raised levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. The long-term effect of raised cortisol levels creates physical problems as well as mental ones. The Community garden has been beneficial in that it enabled me to put a clear boundary between my work and home life. When you’re working from home the boundaries become very blurred or permeable causing even more stress!
Any noise taps into our ‘fight or flight’ response. If we perceive a stressful sound it induces an area of the brain called the amygdala to send out distress signals. They’re picked up by another area of the brain, the hypothalamus, which in turn prompts the adrenal glands to pump adrenaline into the blood. (Many animals, birds and sea life are super stressed, as are we, as we are surrounded by constant noise). Your blood pressure goes up. So, listening and watching the birds in the Community garden on the bird feeders was intensely calming and I’d bring my flask of coffee or soup just to watch and listen to the birds.
Going back to nature is natural and feeds into a primal need that we all have psychologically. We are connected to the earth whether we have forgotten or whether we don’t have much contact with it. That energy is what gives us all life, connecting to the planet and connecting to the ecosystem of the planet. The energy of the earth and nature is all around us and if we are to make it sustainable and the life that lives on it flourish then we’d better start paying it much more attention.