Suffering from stress, negativism or low self-esteem? Here’s why community gardens will save you!

Ben Delbaere, RN, MSc

If you are one of those people who thinks that a little stress doesn’t hurt anyone, you’re wrong. Abundant research has pointed at associations between stress and both poor mental health and poor physical health (Ewing, Schmid, Killingsworth, Zlot, & Raudenbush, 2003; Shi, Lien, Kumar, & Holmboe-Ottesen, 2005). Moreover, stress is one of the predictors for the emergence of depression (Peen, Schoevers, Beekman, & Dekker, 2010). In addition, stress is associated with overall lower wellbeing (Lederbogen et al., 2011). Hence, lowering stress levels is of tremendous importance when establishing mental health enhancement strategies (Koay & Dillon, 2020).

Okay, so stress is bad. ‘What’s new about that?’ You might think. Well, nothing. However, did you ever consider the greenery outside your window to be stress reducing? No? After reading this paragraph, looking outside your window might never be the same again. According to the psycho-psychological stress reduction framework, humans are biologically attuned for immediate positive responses to safe, natural environments associated with survival, such as water, trees, and vegetation (Kardan et al., 2015; Shanahan et al., 2015). Consequently, exposure to these elements supports restoration from stress and recharging the energy consumed as a result of stress (Kardan et al., 2015; Weinstein et al., 2015). In other words, evolution has blessed us with a natural and affordable tranquilizer named nature.

But how does this relate to community gardens? Well, loneliness, perceived decreased social support, and stronger social cohesion have shown to partially mediate the relationship between greenery and mental health (Idler & Benyamini, 1997). Given the fact that community gardening activities have a positive effect on those mediating variables, gardening activities can be seen as an excellent form of exposure to natural environments. This is why scientists believe that community gardens might contribute to self-esteem improvement, stress reduction and combating negativism.

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Generating better understanding of the links between accelerating global environmental change and human health to support policy making and public education