The sun is shining and birds are chirping, that must mean summer is on its way! Once the weather starts to warm up there are countless activities we all enjoy, bike riding, swimming, fishing, camping, relaxing in a hammock, and maybe most importantly, gardening. Isn’t it satisfying to plant flowers in those planters you have on your porch and watch them bloom all season long? What about those vegetables in your garden and getting to eat the things you watered and tended to all spring and summer? Surprisingly, the most rewarding thing about gardening isn’t those award winning zucchinis and radishes; it is the benefits to your mental and physical wellness!
Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins our body needs to make, it helps prevent things like osteoporosis, cancer, depression, heart attacks, and strokes. While gardening, if your skin is exposed to sunlight for longer than 10-15 minutes at a time your body begins the process that will lead to the creation of the biologically active form of Vitamin D, resulting in you feeling more relaxed and happy, as well as fighting off physical illnesses and diseases (Harvard, 2010).
Winter months drive us inside for many reasons: too much snow to drive in, it is below freezing outside, our days are much shorter, etc. Not only does being inside four months of the year mean we are less exposed to sunlight, it also means we are probably watching movies and reading books on the couch instead of taking a walk or doing laps in the pool. This sedentary time can actually lead to isolation and depression. Researchers in England found that not only will you be happier and more relaxed if you are exposed to sunlight, but you will also be even more happy and relaxed if you are exercising while enjoying that sunshine. Sunshine and exercise have such a huge impact on our mental health that just five minutes of exercising outside can improve our self-esteem and mood (Harvard, 2010). We see this every day at Hearth Homes, as moms and kids head outdoors to the garden or playground which they may have never had access to in their previous living arrangements which include under bridges, in cars, and in crowded low-income housing. Playing outside in the dirt impacts our psychological states so much so that mental health professionals use horticulture therapy, a part of Eco therapy, as a practice used to treat people living with mental illnesses such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Things like being outside and letting your hands and bare feet touch soil, interacting with others in a calm environment such as a community garden, and growing your own healthy produce have proven to be extremely effective in treating patients with mild to moderate mental illnesses (Gardening & Mental Health Outcomes).
Our mission at Hearth Homes is to heal women and children who have experienced emotional trauma, chronic stress, food instability, and more. Not knowing where your next meal will come from, or being in an abusive relationship is so stressful that it alters your brain physically and chemically, and leads to developing PTSD, depression, anxiety, substance dependency, etc. As such, we provide every opportunity to engage with nature, explore and play as a family to kick-start those healing endorphines and vitamins. These efforts include 10 raised garden beds, raspberry bushes, a brood of 3 chickens, large grassy areas, a huge playground, and outdoor adventures such as snowshoeing, rafting and camping.
The majority of families we serve may have never had the privilege of a back yard, or going on an adventure and these very experiences contribute greatly to the transformation of their perception, mental health and well being.