As the days grow shorter and the temperature drops, for many it's a time when Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) comes back around. Occurring usually during autumn and winter months, SAD can definitely over take over everyday life.
There is a powerful remedy right outside – nature and gardening.
Nature has an incredible ability to uplift spirits and improve mental health wellbeing. Even on cloudy days, getting some daylight can help regulate our circadian rhythms and boost serotonin levels (a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of happiness and relaxation). Stepping outside into the crisp air, surrounded by the beauty of nature, can be a simple yet effective way to combat the symptoms of SAD, even though going outside might be the last thing you want to do.
When getting outside, gardening specifically helps with physical activity, mindfulness, and connection with the big, beautiful planet we live on. While you are gardening you will be soaking up natural sunlight, which can help alleviate the effects of SAD. Sunlight exposure prompts the body to produce vitamin D, a crucial nutrient linked to mood regulation. This uplifting feeling can be as invigorating on a less sunny day.
You can enjoy all levels of gardening activity from strenuous digging or mulching to sowing seeds. This physical activity releases endorphins (your natural mood lifters) which will help to reduce stress and anxiety.
I now keep hearing people saying how the word mindfulness is being overdone. I say keep on over doing it! If it's a term we all recognise, perhaps we will all give it a try! Gardening requires focus and attention to detail, which makes it an excellent mindfulness activity. As you immerse yourself in what you are doing, you can momentarily escape the sadness you are feeling and find solace in the present moment.
Working with soil, planting seeds, nurturing plants - this all gives a sense of connection with the natural world. This connection has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and improve overall mental health. Nature heals - we feel at ease in the natural world - because we ARE nature.
Watching your garden, enjoying flowers, trees and wildlife provides a real sense of accomplishment. This sense of achievement can counteract feelings of hopelessness associated with SAD.
In any size space:
If taking steps outside seems too much to begin with, start small with indoor plants or a few pots on a windowsill. Try growing microgreens and low maintenance plants that you can manage and give you some reward. Then take steps outside.
The goal is to purely enjoy connecting with nature. Embrace the healing touch of the beautiful outdoors, dance in the rain, let the wind chill your cheeks, hug the tree, plant some bare root shrubs, treat yourself to a new houseplant - simple acts of gardening and being immersed in nature can cultivate a brighter, more uplifting season for your mind, body and soul.