Nature’s Role in Mental Well-being
The beauty of a dew-spangled spiderweb, the soft rustle of leaves in the wind, the chorus of birds at dawn, and the earthy scent of soil after the rain—nature has a profound and inexplicable way of soothing our minds and hearts. As we delve into the realm of Green Therapy (the practice of being in nature to boost growth and healing, especially mental health) and its healing power, especially in benzodiazepine withdrawal and Benzodiazepine-Induced Neurological Disorders (BIND), it is essential to recognize the importance of this natural engagement for our mental well-being.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal and BIND can be challenging. We find ways to cope and distract as we heal. The role of nature, often overlooked, can play a significant part in managing withdrawal/BIND symptoms and help to restore our inner balance. I credit gardening for a large role in my healing. It’s why I create a demonstration garden every year to encourage others to get their hands dirty. I hope you’ll follow along with this year’s garden and be inspired to reap the benefits of “Green Therapy.”
The Soil-Depression Connection: The Role of Mycobacterium Vaccae
One of the fascinating aspects of Green Therapy involves a certain type of bacteria found in the soil—Mycobacterium vaccae. This non-pathogenic bacterium is present in soil and water environments around the globe, and research has shown that it may play a role in decreasing depressive symptoms.
A study published in the journal “Neuroscience” highlighted that mice treated with Mycobacterium vaccae demonstrated increased production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which can help regulate mood, social behavior, appetite, sleep, memory, and even sexual desire. This increase in serotonin can have an antidepressant-like effect, which can be beneficial for those experiencing depressive symptoms due to benzodiazepine withdrawal or BIND. On days when my depression became unbearable, I’d put on my gloves and go out in the garden. Some days I was so weak I’d have to sit on the ground and work on the plants closest to me. I always felt better in the garden than curled up in a fetal position in bed, stuck in my head with my intrusive thoughts.
Homeostasis and Greenery: An Equation for Balance
The concept of homeostasis, the body’s natural ability to maintain a stable internal environment, is integral to our overall well-being. Being in nature and surrounding ourselves with greenery can directly contribute to achieving this state of balance.
Research suggests that exposure to green spaces reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lowers heart rate, and eases muscle tension—all signs of our body achieving homeostasis. Additionally, a study in the “International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health” found that individuals living in areas with more green spaces reported less anxiety and better mental health, suggesting that nature can play a role in lowering the anxiety symptoms often associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal or BIND. While Green Therapy probably won’t take away our anxiety as it is caused by downregulated GABA receptors, it can help reduce its impact.
Savor the Greens: Empirical Evidence for the Positive Impact of Green Spaces on Well-being
In a landmark study conducted in 2014, the University of Exeter Medical School embarked on a comprehensive exploration into the effects of green spaces on mental health. After careful scrutiny of mental health data from 1,000 urban dwellers and utilizing high-definition mapping to trace the residences of the subjects over a period of 18 years, the researchers unveiled a striking correlation. Individuals residing in proximity to green spaces demonstrated a reduction in mental distress indicators, even after accounting for variables such as income, education, and job status.
In a separate study in 2009, Dutch scientists established a correlation between green spaces and reduced prevalence of 15 diseases, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines. This correlation was particularly strong among individuals living within a half-mile radius of green spaces.
These compelling findings are corroborated by the research initiatives and practical programs of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Indeed, an impressive 80% of teachers who participated in the RHS Campaign for School Gardening reported a significant enhancement in student health and well-being attributable to gardening.
In 2021, the RHS released a study that demonstrated a clear connection between daily gardening and improved well-being. According to the findings, individuals who engage in gardening every day exhibit well-being scores that are 6.6% higher and stress levels that are 4.2% lower compared to non-gardeners. This comprehensive survey, encompassing more than 6,000 participants, revealed a meaningful link between the frequency of gardening and enhancements in well-being, perceived stress reduction, and physical activity. The takeaway? Get out and plant something, even if it is just a few pots on your porch or balcony.
Active Engagement: Bird Feeding and Gardening
Active engagement with nature, like bird feeding and gardening, can have a significant impact on our mental health. These activities can provide a sense of purpose, help us feel more connected to the world around us, and offer a form of gentle physical exercise. (Enthusiastic gardeners will be thrilled to discover that the calorie expenditure from a 30-minute gardening session is similar to participating in activities like badminton or volleyball.)
Bird feeding can be particularly therapeutic. The act of providing for these precious creatures can foster a sense of accomplishment and happiness. Moreover, watching the birds can be a mindful practice, helping us stay present and focused, which can be particularly beneficial during withdrawal or in managing BIND symptoms.
Gardening, on the other hand, can be a form of grounding, a technique used in therapy to help manage anxiety or depressive symptoms. The physical contact with the soil not only exposes us to Mycobacterium vaccae but also connects us to the earth, helping us feel more grounded and less anxious or agitated.
As I write this post, it’s a few minutes past dawn. Already the woodpecker that is making her nest in a branch in the maple tree outside my window is tap-tap-tapping, and the finches herald the new day with their songs. The raucous cry of a stellar jay adds to the morning noises. A soft breeze makes its way through the window and carries with it the promise of a beautiful day. Nature has already touched my heart and soul, filling me with peace. I’m eager to get out into my garden!
The Four Cornerstones of Well-Being and Green Therapy
Gardening and bird feeding serve as engaging ways to embrace the four cornerstones of well-being, eat right (WFPB), move enough, stress less, and love well. Gardening, with its rhythmic and repetitive tasks, provides a soothing routine that helps alleviate stress. It is an excellent way to move enough, and if planting fruits and vegetables, an excellent way to eat right. By nurturing plants from seed to bloom, we cultivate traits of care, compassion, and gratitude, which is the fourth cornerstone, love well. Simultaneously, bird feeding offers a unique opportunity to express generosity and kindness towards other living beings. As we observe the birds enjoying the food we’ve provided, it instills in us a sense of fulfillment and compassion, enriching our capacity to love well. These simple, yet profound interactions with nature, enable us to manage stress effectively while nurturing our innate potential for love and kindness, health and healing.
Practical Tips for Green Therapy
- Start Small: If you’re new to Green Therapy, start with small, manageable tasks like caring for a houseplant or setting up a bird feeder.
- Nature Walks: Try to incorporate short walks in green spaces into your daily routine. Even a few minutes spent outdoors can be beneficial.
- Garden Mindfully: When gardening, focus on the feel of the soil, the smell of the plants, and the sounds of nature around you. This mindful practice can help redirect your focus from withdrawal/BIND symptoms.
- Bird Watching: Set up a comfortable spot where you can quietly observe the birds visiting your feeder. Notice their colors, behaviors, and the sounds they make. Install a window feeder for close observation.
- Community Gardening: Join a local community garden. This not only provides an opportunity to be with nature but also fosters a sense of community and belonging.
- Nature Photography: Take up nature photography. This can help you focus on the beauty of the natural world, providing a distraction from anxiety and depressive thoughts.
In conclusion, the healing power of nature is indeed remarkable. The science behind Green Therapy, from soil bacteria’s mood-enhancing properties to the balance achieved through homeostasis in green environments, offers a holistic approach to managing the challenges of benzodiazepine withdrawal and BIND. By actively engaging with nature through activities like bird feeding and gardening, we can tap into this healing power, allowing us to navigate our path to recovery with greater resilience and hope.
Always remember, nature doesn’t rush, yet everything gets accomplished. As we embrace Green Therapy, we learn to align ourselves with nature’s pace, nurturing patience and kindness towards ourselves during our healing journey.
Join Dr. Jenn FREE
Join me Saturday, June 3, at 9 AM Pacific, in my Heal With Dr. Jenn Discord group for a FREE Grow A Healing Garden session. We will focus on how to use gardening as a tool to heal and cope with benzo withdrawal/BIND symptoms. Use this link to join: https://discord.gg/healwithdrjenn?event=1113953230758621244
You’ll only have access to the free public areas of the Heal With Dr. Jenn server. We will meet on a live stage area, and you can communicate with me via the chat box. There will be no video or voice of other participants to keep the stimulation to a minimum. You’ll only be able to see and hear me. Please sign up before the session starts, as you will need to create a Discord profile if you do not have one. I hope you’ll join me!
Add Your Voice to the Conversation
How has gardening or bird feeding/watching improved your life? What questions do you have about how to get started with Green Therapy?