Dr Who is on high rotation in our home. We all have our favourite episodes, historical cameos and incarnations of the loveable time lord.
Shameless Dr Who nerds, the lot of us. There have been many conversations about where we would go and what we would do if we had our own Tardis. I've recently noticed how much my brain slows and body calms when I'm spending time in the garden and have wondered if the garden gives me a taste of a pre-industrial, pre-technology pace of life. Like time travel but without needing to tear the fabric of reality.
The pace of modern life, particularly in Western countries, is vastly different from that experienced by ancient humans, and even much faster than what our Great Grandparents experienced. Way back when we were hunter-gathering folk, we experienced stress as a short, sharp bout of 'fight or flight' to help us catch dinner or avoid becoming dinner. Physiologically, this is a different phenomenon to being in a constant state of alert/stress, which is often what modern lifestyles cause. We have been conditioned to work harder and longer, keep up with an enormous amount of information, process tonnes of sensory input, have *Instagram worthy interior decorating and personal grooming, all while making it look like we're not trying too hard. Oh, and let's add manage our lives during a humanity threatening global pandemic to the mix this year. All this triggers a chemical cascade which has body wide effects. Increased incidence of anxiety, depression, reduced immune function, heart disease and increased chance of stroke are all linked to elevated levels of stress hormones for sustained periods (Esposito and Bianchi, 2012).
Working with plants and being with nature re-integrates the body and brain to a state of calm. There is a heap of research that supports reduced anxiety when people are in nature (Bowler et al, 2010), have a view of nature (Raanaas et al, 2012), or at least have plants in their indoor environment (Nanda et al, 2011; Brown et al, 2013). Lots of gardeners don't need the research to tell them this, they feel the health and psychological benefits after being out in their green space weeding, watering, pottering about.
Maybe there is also some benefit from forced patience in the garden. We can't make things grow faster, we just have to wait. In a world where we can get so much instantly it's probably good for us! We have to adjust to the real speed of life, not the abstract/human made one we impose on ourselves. If we try to go too fast in the garden we might break stems or damage roots. Sounds, breezes and the scents of the garden are calming. The feeling of belonging with elements of nature has a name, the people-plant connection, it was established in our hunter-gatherer ancestors and has been genetically transmitted to all humans. Being out in our gardens, big or small, helps reduce the mismatch between the conditions in which humans evolved and the conditions in which most of us live.
Well I'm getting off the computer and heading out to our little patch for some time travel right now. If only for an hour I can channel my Great Grandparents and focus on the soil, plants and flowers right in front of me, rather than my Sisyphean to-do list.
Hope you have some down time in your garden this weekend too.
*For the record, my own interior decorating and personal grooming certainly do not meet the crazy polished perfections often depicted on many Social Media platforms. Happy to provide evidence of the holy mess if anyone thinks it would help them lower their own standards and therefore divert more time to gardening and relaxation ;)
Bowler, Diana & Buyung-Ali, Lisette & Knight, Teri & Pullin, Andrew. (2010). A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environments. BMC public health. 10. 456. 10.1186/1471-2458-10-456.
Brown, D. K., Barton, J. L., & Gladwell, V. F. (2013). Viewing nature scenes positively affects recovery of autonomic function following acute-mental stress. Environmental science & technology, 47(11), 5562–5569. https://doi.org/10.1021/es305019p
Esposito, A., & Bianchi, V. (2012). Cortisol: Physiology, Regulation and Health Implications. New York: Nova Science Publishers.
Nanda, U., Eisen, S., Zadeh, R. S., & Owen, D. (2011). Effect of visual art on patient anxiety and agitation in a mental health facility and implications for the business case. Journal of psychiatric and mental health nursing, 18(5), 386–393. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2850.2010.01682.x
Raanaas, R. K., Patil, G. G., & Hartig, T. (2012). Health benefits of a view of nature through the window: a quasi-experimental study of patients in a residential rehabilitation center. Clinical rehabilitation, 26(1), 21–32. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269215511412800