The snow has thawed. Daffodils and crocus are finally starting to peep out from the frozen ground, and the world is preparing to celebrate Earth Day today on April 22. Spring is a time of birth and renewal. If you are feeling overwhelmed or in pain, now is the perfect time to get outside and get your hands dirty. Working in a garden, planting a tree, or even simply arranging flowers helps reduce stress in a variety of ways. Horticultural therapy is becoming more widespread as hospitals and occupational therapy facilities begin to incorporate gardens, greenhouses, and green spaces into their work with patients. Here are some of the ways digging in the dirt can reduce stress and help heal pain.

Taking Time For Yourself

Taking a moment when you are only meeting your own needs instead of rushing to fulfill the demands of family and work is a gift to yourself. This is time to breathe and relax. Weeding a raised bed, digging in mulch, and harvesting vegetables can produce a meditative state that helps to melt away the stresses of the world.

Being in Nature

Being connected to the earth instead of the internet is an easy way to literally ground yourself. When we are feeling stressed or in pain, many times it is impossible to get out of our heads and stop thinking about the pain or worrying about the stress. Many tasks in the garden connect us with nature in a way that we are not normally connected. This may bring us back to a simpler time in our lives. At the very least it will give us a moment when we can get dirt under our fingernails and see something tangible come out of our efforts.


Did you know that digging burns an amazing 329 calories an hour? Gardening can be surprisingly vigorous work and does “count” towards a goal of 30 minutes of exercise daily. Even in a wheelchair-accessible garden where gardeners are seated, there is stretching, bending, and core work involved. Hauling a tree, raking in mulch, and bending down to weed all engage the body in physical activity, providing valuable stress relief.

Creating Beauty

Beauty is healing in and of itself, but relaxing surrounded by beauty you have created yourself is a major bonus. Planting already-blooming flowers in addition to bulbs helps to mark the seasons, themselves a reassuring connection to the earth. Certain scented flowers and plants, like lavender and lemon balm, provide additional stress-relieving properties and have even been used to fight inflammation. Bringing these flowers indoors can be a visual reminder of the stress relief you felt outside.

Take care of yourself when you are outside. Wear sunscreen, stay hydrated, and take breaks when you need them. This is a healing time for you, so listen to your body and move as slowly as you need to. Sometimes that is the best part of planting a seed; it will only grow as fast as it can grow, and you must be patient.

The Chinese have a proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” What will you plant now?

Image by Alex Indigo via Flickr


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