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SNAP! How Does Your Garden Grow?

My childhood home had the most beautiful garden on the street. It was Dad’s pride and joy. After spending the entire workweek on his feet, he was down on his knees with his hands in the soil every Sunday. I didn’t understand why he wanted to spend his day off digging in the garden. I never imagined that gardening could be relaxing.

Thirty years later, I had an “a-ha” moment. My dad was ahead of his time. He never knew about mindfulness or meditation. The term Zen didn’t exist in his world, but he was experiencing peace and contentment, lost in the rhythm of gardening, in a Zen state of mind.

Gardening creates a way to keep your hands and mind busy. Practicing mindfulness, focusing, and concentrating on what you’re doing while digging, planting, weeding, and trimming, reduces anxiety and negative thoughts.

Unlike Dad, I don’t have the patience or innate skill to make flowers grow. But as my husband’s caregiver during a serious illness, I couldn’t wait for the snow to melt so I could get away to our backyard. I spend the winter months looking through “Better Homes and Gardens,” Burpee seed catalogs, and Pinterest boards, fantasizing about my summer garden. I felt less paralyzed with anxiety, and my spirits lifted. I happily anticipated the day I could grab a shovel, transplant the overpowering hostas, and make room for fragrant flowering plants and delicious vegetables. Focusing on weeding and pruning soothes a lot of my anxiety and gives my resilience a boost. While caregiving often leaves me powerless, gardening gives me a feeling of being powerful. Getting rid of imperfections among the flowers is much easier than managing the unmanageable.

I always liked getting my hands dirty. Even though it ruins my nails, I just learned there’s an added bonus to not wearing gloves. LITTLE-KNOWN FACT: There's a chemical found in soil that boosts brain cells. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, decreases, and Serotonin increases while gardening outdoors. Seriously, now you know.

NO OUTDOOR SPACE? If there’s no outdoor access to plant a garden, caring for houseplants on a balcony or window sill can distract your mind from stress-inducing responsibilities. (Unless you're like me... Jack says I killed our artificial ficus tree.) It’s not hard to achieve a meditative state. While watering the plants, stay in the present moment. Don’t rush through it. Take a few deep breaths. Really pay attention to what you’re doing. Focus on the leaves and flowers; touch them; talk to them!

HEALING GARDENS While tending to the garden is therapeutic for the gardener/caregiver, your loved one or patient will also respond well to being among the flowers and greenery. Healing gardens/ green spaces in hospitals and healthcare facilities provide a retreat and stimulate healing for patients, families, and even staff. The pleasant scenery and natural sounds offer a great getaway from the hospital atmosphere.

When Jack was hospitalized, I regularly escaped his room and nervously paced up and down the hall. One day his nurse suggested I go up to the rooftop. (To jump off, I wondered?) “Take a few minutes for yourself. It's beautiful up there. You can see Lake Erie and the whole Cleveland skyline.” So, I got in the elevator, pressed PH, and rode up to the penthouse floor.

The doors opened, revealing a sprawling rooftop terrace with ceiling-to-floor windows and a spectacular view of the city. I made my way through the indoor plaza and headed straight to the outdoor walkway. A breath of fresh air greeted me. I inhaled as a slight breeze gently blew in off Lake Erie. The water sparkled like a million diamonds dancing in the sunlight.

Being in the middle of a metropolitan area, this was as close as I was going to be to nature. But even way up here, I felt my heart rate slow down, and my body relax.

Even if it’s impossible to be out in a park or garden, hearing natural sounds and watching waterfalls, ocean waves, trees rustling in the wind, and flowers blooming help calm anger and fear. There are a lot of nature videos available on YouTube. They work! I find them to be mesmerizing on days when I want to be outdoors but can't.

Whether you take advantage of the home garden, a healing garden at a facility, or nature videos, it’s important to take a revitalizing escape. Green thumbs and brown thumbs alike can find a way to enjoy nature.

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