Does Gardening Reduce Stress?
Yes, it does. Class dismissed. There will be a test on Tuesday.
You have likely heard that gardening can reduce stress, and you thought:
Yeah, I buy that.
But, how does it work, and how much does it really help?
There are 3 ways gardening can reduce stress:
- Lowers cortisol and boosts mood
- Lowers blood pressure
- Increases sense of well-being
But first, let’s first take a closer look at stress and how it affects the body.
How Stress Works
Stress includes acute, isolated events and prolonged periods of tension. When confronted with a stressful situation, the brain sends commands to the autonomic nervous system which controls body functions such as breathing, heart rate, metabolism, and digestion.
The Autonomic Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system is a yin-yang-like network composed of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.
The sympathetic nervous system generates the well-known “fight-or-flight” reaction which delivers high levels of hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) to the body through the bloodstream. This speeds heart rate, slows digestion, and raises blood pressure.
The lesser-known parasympathetic nervous system stimulates the “rest and digest” functions. It slows heart rate, speeds digestion, and lowers blood pressure. Adrenaline and cortisol decrease when the parasympathetic system engages.
The body’s reaction to stress helps people navigate threatening situations, which is good, but too much yin-energy without enough yang-recovery can lead to dangerous health complications.
Effects of Chronic Stress on the Body
Chronic stress can interfere with immune, cardiovascular, digestive, reproductive, and sleep functions. For example, the long term use of adrenaline wears on the circulatory system, which increases blood pressure and the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Like a car, delaying general maintenance for a short time is fine, but extended delays cause major, expensive, and often irreparable issues. Your entire body needs regular maintenance, or, restorative periods.
Gardening Reduces Stress
Relaxing hobbies, exercise, and socializing all help engage the parasympathetic system. Gardening is a relaxing hobby that frequently involves exercise and socializing, so one could assume that gardening lowers stress, but how much?
One science journal article highlights several studies exploring community gardens and their effects on mental health. In one study, gardeners reported considerably lower stress levels than those who participated in indoor physical activity.
Scientific studies show that gardening significantly reduces stress.
1. Lowers Cortisol and Boosts Mood
In one experiment, 30 community gardeners completed a stressful task and followed it with half an hour of outdoor gardening or half an hour of indoor reading.
The gardening group experienced significantly lower cortisol levels in the recovery phase than the reading group.
Furthermore, positive mood measurements returned to pre-stress levels after gardening. The reading group experienced a decrease in positive mood throughout the recovery phase.
The increase in positive mood compared to the reading group strongly supports gardening as an effective stress-management tool.
2. Lowers Blood Pressure
The sympathetic nervous system raises blood pressure. Studies continue to show that exposure to nature and sunlight lowers blood pressure.
For example, one medical journal describes a Japanese study in which observing plants resulted in lower blood pressure, pulse rate, and muscle tension. Also, people working in computer rooms experienced lower blood pressure when plants were introduced.
Gardening involves observing plant life and sun exposure, which both decrease high blood pressure. This makes gardening an effective way to counteract the body’s stress response.
3. Community Gardening Increases Sense of Well-Being
This science journal article focusing on community gardens and mental health features a study in which community gardeners reported a much greater sense of well-being than individual gardeners and non-gardeners. They also reported higher levels of resilience and optimism than non-gardeners.
Gardening promotes mental health and reduces stress, but adding a social element to gardening appears to increase one’s sense of well-being considerably.
Well-being is different from reduced stress, but a greater sense of well-being creates resilience in stressful situations.