Watching my plants grow and bloom, as well as the benefits of grounding, are just some of the ways gardening teaches me to be more mindful for my chronic illness.
Mindfulness is a practice, trait, or technique that encourages you to be aware of the present moment. This might involve focusing on your current sensations to take notice of your mind, body, and surroundings.
For me, this often means trying not to rush or multitask. I try not to dwell on the past, either.
Any activity or part of your day can be mindful. But as it’s a state of being that can take time to hone, a lot of people might have a dedicated mindful activity. For many, this might be a type of meditation, which is a term often used synonymously with mindfulness. But for me, most of the time, my mindfulness practice is gardening.
In 2015 I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I was stuck in a state of chronic fatigue, depression, and medication limbo. I had a newborn baby and RA symptoms that weren’t under control. So, I was at home a lot more than I ever expected to be.
I desperately needed a hobby that would fit with my new lifestyle. My husband suggested gardening, and I wasn’t thoroughly overjoyed. But I didn’t have many other ideas, and the garden really did need some attention.
Though I didn’t admit it straight away, I quite enjoyed gardening when I started. And with time, I found benefits that were totally unexpected. It’s provided me with a sense of support that’s taken me by surprise.
Since starting to garden, I’ve also been learning more about mindfulness, and how it can be used to help chronic illness. I soon realized that gardening had become my mindful activity.
Mindfulness has many potential benefits for chronic illness.
This review of studies suggests that mindfulness meditation can help to improve pain in those living with chronic illness. Another review also found that body-mind therapies, including mindfulness, improved vitality, functioning, and symptoms related to disease activity for patients with RA. Both of these reviews also remark on improved quality of life and mental health, respectively.
The benefits of mindfulness for your mental health are generally more widely recognized, especially in association with stress and workload. For example, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is a program designed for this purpose.
Mindfulness-based interventions are shown to improve different conditions, including depression, which is 2–3 times more prevalent in those living with chronic illness. A review of evidence suggests that different mindfulness-oriented interventions can have a positive impact on well-being, reduce psychological symptoms and emotional reactivity, and improve behavioral regulation.
A lot of this evidence notes the overall lack of mindfulness study quality. So, research and conclusive evidence is limited.
But in an increasingly stressful world, mindfulness is a very attractive practice that has few barriers.
As an activity in itself, gardening has a whole host of benefits, including promoting sleep and maintaining a healthy weight. There are different qualities of gardening that also make it a particularly good mindful activity for me.
Touching soil is therapeutic for me. Using my achy, swollen, red-hot hands to manipulate soggy soil to create something is rewarding on a variety of levels. It forces me to focus on my senses, and being able to do this with my joints that might be stiff from RA feels even more precious.
Feeling the different textures and temperatures of the soil, and getting it stuck under my nails, can turn my mood joyous in a matter of seconds. If I want to stay a bit cleaner, I can wear bright and colorful gardening gloves, which also seem to improve my mood.
There’s some research that suggests touching soil can improve the skin’s microbiome, and could potentially reduce immune system disorders. Other research supports that direct contact of the body to the earth, known as grounding or earthing, actually recharges our antioxidant system, strengthening our immune response.
I find grounding to be beneficial on many levels. It seems to recharge and restore my energy, regulate my temperature, and balance my soul all at the same time.
Grounding, or earthing, refers to direct skin contact with the surface of the earth.
It’s based on earthing science and grounding physics, which suggests that the earth’s electrical charges can have positive effects on your body. It can be used as a therapeutic technique that electrically reconnects or “grounds” you to the earth.
For more evidence and information, this resource can help.
When you have a chronic illness, seeing positive change, growth, or progress of any kind can be tough. Gardening is rewarding because you can create growth in a relatively short period of time. It’s something that I can actively contribute toward, and feel like my efforts are working.
You start with dirt, a seed, and some water, and before you know it, you have a baby sprout that grows bigger and then blossoms into the final plant. The final product might be a nourishing form of food, or a beautiful plant or flower.
Seeing growth gives me hope and motivation each and every day. Mindful gardening reminds me that there’s always room for growth in my life.
Even if my hard work in the garden doesn’t result in a beautiful flower, I’m reminded that not everything can be predicted and controlled.
This is always an important lesson, as living with a chronic illness can feel overwhelming, and my efforts to improve my symptoms can feel wasted when nothing seems to change.
But gardening reminds me that this is expected, and sometimes accepting the unpredictable is the best route forward.
My garden has served as a talking point more times than I can count. This was such an unexpected bonus.
This might not seem like a usual mindful trait, but if you have a chronic illness, you know how tired you can get talking about your health. Now I can have a conversation about gardening and connect with more people. I find myself excited to talk with others about gardening. Even if the people I’m talking with don’t garden themselves, they usually have a childhood memory of gardening, or they’ve visited gardens.
Having gardening as a hobby, as well as a mindful practice, helps me to feel more than my chronic illness. I feel more confident about myself and talking with others.
The garden itself has been a beautiful addition to our family home. When I was first diagnosed with RA, maintaining the home was a struggle and there was no thought for decor or beauty. Having a garden at my home really changed that.
The flowers on the plants are attractive and colorful and add beauty to the yard. Having this beautiful space helps me to be mindful, and knowing I created it feels even better.
It’s a daily reminder to myself to never let RA cloud my ability to see the natural beauty in the world.
I never thought that gardening would teach me about mindfulness. In fact, I thought it would be quite mind-numbing.
But gardening has been the ultimate mindfulness practice for me. It forces me to concentrate on the task at hand. I use my body to create growth and focus on my senses, connecting with the earth to feel grounded. I often leave my phone inside, and have time completely to myself.
In turn, I feel more confident, and at peace. Being more mindful helps me to manage my RA symptoms better. It has given me a new quality of life I didn’t think was possible again.
Medically reviewed on August 23, 2023
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