The pandemic triggered a dramatic increase in mental health issues in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four Americans is now taking a prescription drug to treat a mental health condition. But instead of relying on medication to ease anxiety and depression, doctors in some other countries are prescribing more time in nature to boost mental health. Now, new research shows that this theory bears fruit.
A recent study found that spending time near green spaces and water proved to be an effective way to calm stress. Similarly, a new small study found that picking up a paint brush or a bag of potting soil could be an alternative for Prozac or Paxil, says Inc..
“There is extensive history and literature of anecdotal endorsements that engaging in gardening activities and horticultural therapy or people-plant interactions such as visiting gardens has therapeutic benefits,” explained study author Charles Guy. He added that these benefits applied to stress, emotions, anxiety, and overall mental well-being. For his research he assigned 17 healthy women to an art therapy class and 15 to a gardening class, carefully measuring how the activities affected their mental health.
After eight one-hour classes “participants in both the art and gardening groups showed reductions in mood disturbance, perceived stress, and depression symptoms following the interventions,” said PsyPost. Before and after the interventions, all participants completed assessments of mood states, perceived stress, depression, and anxiety. These assessments were checked at intervals throughout the study. Measure of heart rate and blood pressure were also measured at the beginning and end of each session. The gardening group exhibited slightly better benefits than the art therapy group in mental well-being, while no significant changes in heart rate or blood pressure were noted in either group. The findings were published in PLOS One.
Guy, an emeritus and courtesy professor of plant physiology and biochemistry at the University of Florida, said, “the results suggest that engaging in gardening or art-making activities as leisure pursuits may have mental health benefits and perhaps fortify general mental health and well-being. Additional studies are needed to further expand our understanding how large and extensive gardening may benefit one’s mental and physical health.”
The study found that the participants’ mental health tended to improve with every session. However, according to the study authors, the limitation to this study is that it was relatively small and only included healthy women, so the findings may not be applicable to men or to a wider population of women.
“It is our hope that our study could be a model for future studies where complex treatments can be well-defined, highly structured and standardized, and outcome assessment can utilize the same methodology and instruments so that studies can be repeated, and results be compared across multiple studies.”
According to Inc., doctors in the U.K. and Canada have already been writing prescriptions for mental health boosting activities like going to an art museum or picking up a few houseplants.
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