Looking for ways to relieve stress, anxiety and depression without resorting to pills or psychiatric therapy? Engaging in activities such as gardening and volunteering, produce obvious practical benefits, but they can also help significantly in boosting mental health and self-esteem.
A recent BBC article described the benefits of both volunteering and gardening as valuable aids to achieving a sense of personal well-being.
Therapeutic Benefits of Volunteering
In the BBC piece entitled “Gardening and volunteering: The new wonder drugs?”
Nick Triggle wrote: “There is a growing body of research that suggests volunteering is good for your health, particularly mentally. It can help bring stability, improve self-esteem, reduce social isolation and help people learn new skills. For many, it can be a gateway to paid employment, which in turn has its own benefits.
“In fact, there’s plenty of evidence a whole range of social and practical activities can improve the well being of people.”
Volunteering organizations recognize the reciprocal nature of volunteer work; in many cases, volunteers appear to benefit almost as much as those they assist through the donation of their time and energy.
From a study conducted by United Health Group:
“The health impacts of stress are well-documented—physically, mentally, emotionally and behaviourally, too much stress takes a toll. Volunteering helps us to manage stress—the majority [78 percent] of people who have volunteered in the past 12 months say that volunteering has lowered their stress levels. Volunteers are more likely than U.S. adults overall to report that they felt calm and peaceful most of the time, and that they had a lot of energy most of the time.”
In the BBC piece, Triggle related the experiences of a young woman diagnosed with schizophrenia after a breakdown in 2014, whose illness caused her to stop working and studying. When Alex-Marie Phillips began volunteering at a local charity shop, she regained confidence, and found that the work helped her to conquer her fears.
“Volunteering had always been something I saw as selfless, something done purely for the benefit of others,” she said. “However, it has turned out to be so much more.” Alex-Marie was soon employed again and no longer feeling socially isolated, after her confidence “came on in leaps and bounds.”
“It has helped my social anxiety and has allowed me to get out more,” she said. Volunteering served as the catalyst for Alex-Marie’s return to a normal life and improved mental health.
Gardening and Mental Health
Gardening is another practical activity that can improve mental health and one’s sense of well-being. The King’s Fund, an independent British health charity, recently released a report on the successful implementation of gardening as a means of therapy – an approach that can generate long-term benefits.
The researchers found that:
“… gardening-based mental health intervention may … be best conceptualised as a longer-term therapeutic option for the long haul, which can, over time, facilitate recovery and social inclusion among people experiencing mental health difficulties.”
Gardening can be particularly beneficial for older people; it has been shown that gardening activities can help in slowing the onset of dementia as well as ameliorating its symptoms, including agitation and aggression.
Combining Gardening and Volunteering
Given the positive benefits of both gardening and volunteering, why not combine the two?
Getting involved in home or community gardening and donating part of the produce to those in need is the perfect way to reap the rewards of both of these stress-reducing, mental health-boosting activities – not to mention the benefits of eating your own home-grown organic fruits and veggies!
There are 7,749 food pantries across the U.S. where individuals can donate fresh produce; visit the AmpleHarvest.org to find out how to get involved.
To learn more about community gardening opportunities in your area, visit the website of the American Community Gardening Association.