“Into the garden I go to lose my mind and find my soul;” I don’t know who originally said this, but given the way 2020 has been going, it certainly is appropriate. Our anxiety levels and feelings of depression are running rampant given the current situation with COVID-19 and social unrest, plus a particularly divisive election pending. What better way to ease those worries than by spending time in the garden.

The garden has been my refuge for years. I am a nurse by trade, and as a passionate gardener, it requires a constant tending and caring much like people do. Without realizing it the garden responds by giving back if we just stop and allow it to do so.

Initially last spring when the COVID-19 pandemic first became apparent, there was some panic and worry about lack of food resources and people responded by buying seeds and planning a garden. This first response to plant was a practical reason, not necessarily one to enjoy the benefits of nature.

There has been much research and studies about the positive effects of nature on mood and anxiety. Gardening in particular has many positives associated with it. Exposure to green spaces has been proven to decrease the stress hormone cortisol. Even Sigmund Freud wrote of the “restful effects that flowers have on us; they have neither emotions nor conflicts.”

While in the garden one can leave stresses behind and not worry about current events. Health-care-design researcher Robert Ulrich spoke of stress reduction theory and suggested that natural stimuli are non-threatening and promote enhanced well-being and relaxation, taking our minds off our problems.

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That is not to say that gardening is all relaxation and stopping to smell the roses. A large part of working in the garden involves physical exertion allowing us to vent our frustrations and anxiety. Who doesn’t feel better after chopping and hacking out a particularly stubborn weed patch? Even better, there are no ramifications for venting those feelings! It is a good thing.

A little time in the garden goes a long way to elevate our mood. Even having a few pots to tend can help reduce our anxieties and stress. Choose the experience that is accessible and therapeutic for you.

To maximize the effects of nature and of being in the garden, avoid distractions. For instance, start by leaving your cell phone behind. Other distractions like your neighbor’s leaf blower or lawn mower are a bit more difficult to control. Try to tune out the distractions and enjoy the quiet moment by trying to take in and perceive your plants and garden. It’s all about being present and mindful of nature.

These days of self-quarantine and social distancing are a source of distress and are challenging. Plants are less frightening and judgmental than people and provide an escape route from those challenges. That connection is safer and simpler, leading to a sense of stability and self-worth.

These local garden articles will reach you each week throughout the gardening season, but also click on "Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website -- www.extension.umn.edu -- for gardening information, or visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Beltramicountymastergardeners.

Local Master Gardeners will respond to questions via voicemail. Call (218) 444-7916, and leave your name, number and question.