Reap the Natural Mental Health Benefits of Indoor Gardening
Updated Aug 29, 2022
As a musician, I love rhythm. It energizes music by moving it forward. Rhythm organizes music into the patterns of pulses that make you want to clap, bob, and tap along.
You’ll find rhythm in anything with a repeating pattern, cycle, beat, or movement. I live in Wisconsin and one of my favorite rhythms establishes the predictable cycle of seasons.
Although winter brings beautiful, white ground cover, it also stirs an insatiable restlessness when temperatures dip too low to go outside for extended periods of time. White and brown start to look drab after enough overcast days, too. Placing plants in windows around the house cuts through the lack of color out there, but I still feel an urge to dig into the plants.
Since becoming a homeowner, I have discovered a love of gardening I never bothered to explore before. Sitting in my patch of lemon thyme, picking weeds with bare fingers and running my hand over the creepers to release their lemon-scented sweetness, calmness washes over me. The repetitive pluck-and-toss movement transforms into a mesmerizing dance.
Some gardeners say they love the “peace and quiet” they find in their garden. I don’t perceive my garden that way at all. I hear the movement of tree branches and leaves in the breeze and birdsongs from every direction. In my backyard, I strategically placed wind chimes of specific pitches to create an idyllic, natural symphony that surrounds me when I work in the dirt.
Listen to a sample of the music in my backyard, which turns picking weeds into a multi-sensory experience.
Benefits of Gardening
Studies on gardening support its reputation for easing stress, anxiety, and depression. The soil itself improves mood through the release of serotonin triggered by tiny microbes called mycobacterium vaccae. They most commonly enter the body through inhalation or cuts on your hands when you stir up the dirt. The spike in your mood from these little critters lingers long after a gardening session ends with no known side effects.
Natural light also plays a part in decreasing the impact of stress. Sunlight boosts circulation of the body’s natural calm-and-happy chemical, serotonin. It also increases melatonin production and ensures its release at the perfect time for optimal sleep. A good night’s sleep helps you recover from and manage stress better.
The great outdoors set off an instinctive relaxation response. But you don’t need to physically go outside to benefit. Placing plants in your indoor environment and looking at nature pictures or videos reduce stress as well.
How to Bring the Outdoor Gardening Experience Indoors
Since I live in Wisconsin, the climate only offers about four to five months of decent outdoor gardening time a year. The following three tactics have worked well to satisfy my gardening urges the rest of the year. Give them a try if you don’t have access to outdoor space due to unfavorable climate or living arrangements.
- Keep Potted Plants Around Your Home
Many plants thrive indoors with minimal effort, even in less-than-ideal light levels. My Madagascar dragon tree plant (Dracaena marginata) shows no signs of slowing down after more than ten years in my care and some unavoidable, minor abuses. It survived a car ride at freeway speeds, during which the plant sat in the passenger seat with its foliage sticking out through the sunroof. Along with the dragon tree plant, some of the easiest plants to keep alive include Philodendron, spider plants, air plants, and succulents.
Knowing that plants need sunlight means picking spots around your home with good access to it. You’ll get mood-boosting sunlight, too, as you care for and admire them. In case you live in a location that lacks the natural sunlight needed to keep both you and your plant content, you’ll love this next bit of information. The same products that provide UV-free, broad-spectrum light to improve Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, promote healthy plant growth as well.
Similar to humans, plants receive more harm than benefit from the ultraviolet light used in dedicated plant lights. Plants also contain special pigments in their “skin” for UV protection. No need to buy separate lights for you and your plants!
Plenty of plants offer opportunities to build advanced gardening skills, depending on how much time you want to dedicate to it. Great rewards literally bloom when you start new plants from established ones by way of “cuttings” or splitting. Philodendron and hens and chicks lend themselves well to practicing these techniques. Plus the young plants make great gifts.
- Get Real Dirt(y)
To maximize relaxation from indoor gardening, harness the power of mood-altering mycobacterium vaccae. Unfortunately, commercial potting soil won’t contain much, if any. Try to find a source of organic fertilizer or compost and mix it with the potting soil. Better yet, get some dirt from outside somewhere, anywhere. It will likely contain the bacteria you want. Even frozen ground, once thawed, should yield a thriving colony of the target bacteria.
After obtaining the proper soil, the next step in taking advantage of mycobacterium vaccae involves a quick and simple process. Gently poke a hole about every inch or two apart in your plant’s soil with a chopstick or wooden shish kabob skewer prior to every other watering. You’ll end up aerating the soil and releasing the feel-good bacteria.
- Create Auditory Ambience
If you enjoy the “music” of the outdoors as much as I do, bring it indoors with the rest of your gardening. I recommend hanging wind chimes from a plant hanger that screws into your ceiling or wood framing. Check the weight of your wind chimes and the limit on the hanger to make sure the hanger and mounting surface will handle the load safely.
The bigger the wind chimes, the lower the pitches they produce and the more relaxed you will feel. Opt for ones made of hollow metal, which create a sustained, mellow sound quality. These wind chimes may cost more than little tinny ones, but they should last a decade or longer. Most importantly, find a set of wind chimes that sounds pleasant to you, especially in your indoor space. By habit, I used to touch my wind chimes whenever I walked past them in the room, and hearing them made me smile.
Options for birdsongs and other nature sound recordings continue to grow, due to their increased popularity in recent years. An online search for “nature meditation” or “nature relaxation” should yield choices galore. Even easier, give the curated playlist below a try.
Your First Steps to Create an Indoor Garden
There’s no bad time of year to start indoor gardening, so take a trip to your local supply store. Explore what kinds of plants they stock, price out your budget, and decide where you’ll place plants around your home. The planning phase builds excitement but keeps impulses at bay if you need to wait before jumping into this new relaxation hobby.
Don’t feel pressured to create and care for an expansive indoor garden all at once, either. Bring home one plant at a time to ensure a comfortable balance between responsibility and enjoyment.
Check out these additional resources on indoor gardening, all of which helped me at some point in my gardening adventures:
I’m a music therapist, dog mom, nature enthusiast, business owner, introvert, sleep and stress management coach, and research lover on a mission to help you remove stress as a barrier to better health, greater happiness, and more meaningful connections with the people and passions that make life exciting.