The work we do at Dragonfly Hill Farm is beneficial to my mental health every single day! Gardening and cooking are two powerful tools to help us during difficult times, and I have certainly had some difficult times in my life. These tools are available to everyone and can help us all live more mindfully.
I want to share a bit of my story and the ways that gardening and cooking have helped me to ease my mental health struggles. When I think about having a healthy diet and lifestyle, I am sure to always think about a healthy mind as well. When my mind is not healthy, my diet and lifestyle suffer as well. It’s always a balancing act for me.
Three ways time in the garden eases my mental health struggles
I have always loved to get my hands dirty and observe the magic of growing my own food, but I didn’t realize how important gardening was to my mental health until life got challenging.
In 2010, I was diagnosed with cancer for the first time. In 2013 I was diagnosed with a different cancer. Then in 2018, my sister Brigitte lost her own battle with cancer. During those years of treatments and caregiving, I wasn’t able to have a garden. I didn’t have the time or the mental energy.
When I needed it most, I couldn’t feel the soil on my hands or reap the mental health benefits of gardening. That time without a garden was incredibly challenging and showed me how much my holistic wellness is tied to time in nature.
Mental health can be hard to talk about, but I think it’s important to be transparent. I have a diagnosis of depression. So when I talk about gardening and mental health, I am talking specifically about how time in the garden eases my depression symptoms. But these practices can help with all sorts of mental challenges.
1 – Reflection while planting Chesnok Red Garlic
As I begin my growing season by planting the garlic and the squash seeds, I reflect on my journey to get to this point. I tried out 19 varieties of garlic before I landed on the ones that I grow today. What an analogy for life! How many things have you tried before finding out what works and doesn’t work for you?
I grow the garlic best suited for my land and most beneficial for our health. Chesnok Red Garlic, for example, grows strong in my soil and its complex, rich flavor enhances healing dishes. We don’t always know what will be best for us at first, but the process of choosing and planting garlic reminds me to slow down, reflect, and take the time to make thoughtful decisions.
As I reflect on my past, I am able to have new realizations that ease my mental strain. I have a lot of survivor’s guilt and anxiety about my cancer returning. Working in the garden helps me to reflect and process. The combination of thought and hands-on activity in the garden is critical for my mental health.
2 – Walking in the rows to connect with healing power of nature
Gardens need constant care and attention. I have to walk the rows everyday to make sure everything is growing as it should. When I am out in the garden, I am experiencing first hand the mental health benefits of nature.
It has been scientifically proven that being in nature is good for our physical and mental health. Time in nature decreases stress, eases anxiety symptoms, and supports good mental health (1).
As I walk through the rows of Georgian Fire garlic, I feel uplifted. The challenges that weigh on my shoulders feel a bit lighter and I am able to clear my head and think about what matters most to me.
3 – Gratitude from peeling Pehoski Purple Garlic
The end of the growing season is a time for gratitude. As I harvest and peel the garlic from my fields, I am so grateful for everything that has gone into this process.
I know that my time in the garden has helped me to heal and strengthen my mental health. I am grateful for the power of nature as a healer. I am also grateful to my family and friends for supporting me on this journey.
Being able to eat something that I grew with my own hands makes me appreciate the wonders of Mother Earth. The practice of gratitude has been shown to boost mental health and ease symptoms of depression over and over again in scientific studies (2). Gardening reminds me to practice gratitude and reap its mental health benefits.
Four ways cooking at home improves my mental health
The garden isn’t the only place where I am able to improve my mental health. The kitchen is just as important. As I taste my pesto and perfect my butternut squash soup recipe, I am also healing my mind.
1 – Mindfulness
As I am working in the kitchen, I practice mindfulness. I take note of the feeling of the garlic as I peel and chop it. I smell the garlic scapes as they are mixed into my pesto. I listen to the sound of my knife on the cutting board as chop butternut squash for soup.
Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, improve focus and well being, and boost memory function (3). Practicing mindfulness in the kitchen helps me to incorporate these benefits into my life.
2 – Making the most of every situation
My favorite thing to cook is stir fry. With a stir fry, you take what is available and make it into a delicious dish. Cooking, especially making stir fry, encourages me to make the most out of every situation, even if it feels like I’ve been dealt a bad hand.
My life has been full of challenges, but I try everyday to make the best of it. Cooking is proof that we have the ability to make things better and a reminder of how to do so.
3 – Lowering stress
With cooking, you can’t stress too much. The circumstances are what they are and you can always try again. When I first made butternut squash soup, it was not what I wanted. Though I was disappointed, I did not let myself stress about it.
I knew that there would be more squash and I would be able to try the recipe again. After consulting with my husband, who has great taste buds, I made it the next time and it was much better. My low stress approach to time in the kitchen provides a model for how I want to live the rest of my life.
4 – Exercising creative thinking
Time in the kitchen is my creative outlet. I like the act of cooking, but what I really love is the process of creating new dishes. I feel in my element when I am trying out one of our new recipes or perfecting our pesto and butternut squash soup.
Engaging in creative activities helps to boost mental health and make people feel more positive (4). I know that I feel much better on days when I am able to get into the kitchen and try something new.
Most of us face mental health challenges at some point in our lives. I have found that time in the garden and kitchen help me greatly during hard times. I encourage you to try out some of the methods above to help ease your struggles and live more mindfully. If you are unsure of where to start, our last blog post has great tips on how to begin gardening and these new recipes using our garlic are perfect for time in the kitchen. Let me know how you feel after trying them!
- Kristen Weir, “Nurtured by Nature,” American Psychological Association, April 1, 2020, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature
- JA Iodice, JM Malouff, NS Schutte (2021) The Association between Gratitude and Depression: A Meta-Analysis. Int J Depress Anxiety 4:024. doi.org/10.23937/2643-4059/1710024
- Daphne M Davis and Jeffrey A Hayes, “What are the Benefits of Mindfulness,” American Psychological Association, July/August 2012, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner
- Conner, T. S., DeYoung, C. G., & Silvia, P. J. (2018). Everyday creative activity as a path to flourishing. Journal of Positive Psychology, 13(2), 181-189. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2016.1257049