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mental health

Health

Gardening might be the most comprehensive workout for your body, mind and spirit

There are so many health benefits to gardening, it's kind of ridiculous.

Photo by Ny Menghor on Unsplash

Gardening is a full-body workout.

May in the Northern Hemisphere means gardening season kicks into full swing. Both expert and amateur gardeners are consulting their Plant Hardiness Zones Map (which has changed this. year, by the way) and heading out to their local plants shops to buy vegetable and flower starters, fillings spots amid perennials that are popping up and seedlings started earlier indoors.

Gardening is an enjoyable hobby for some and a dietary necessity for others, but no matter what motivates you to tend a garden, there's no question that it's good for you. In fact, gardening might just be the best exercise there is for overall health.


Anyone who's worked in their yard knows it's surprisingly physical. We have these visions of old people puttering around in their gardens, but that "puttering" is actually a solid workout. Pulling weeds and digging holes may not give you jacked biceps and a snatched waist, but when it comes to the kinds of recommended exercise that can help you live a longer, healthier life, it's hard to beat gardening.

Here are some of the physical, mental and spiritual health benefits of gardening:

Gardening is good for your heart

The Centers for Disease Control consider gardening an official form of exercise, and according to the Mayo Clinic, you might burn as many calories during a busy gardening session as you do at the gym. It's recommended that people get 150 minutes a week of cardiovascular exercise, so gardening for half an hour five days a week will tend both your plants and. your heart.

Gardening has also been shown to lower stress levels. Chronic stress is a significant risk factor for heart disease, gardening can help mitigate that risk.

woman in gardening gloves squatting next to a garden bed

Squatting and pulling are just two ways gardening works your muscles.

Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Gardening works every major muscle group

According to Maryland Primary Care Physicians, "Digging, lifting bags of mulch and pushing wheelbarrows all provide strength training similar to weight lifting, which leads to healthier bones and joints." Such activities work every major muscle group—legs, buttocks, arms, shoulders, neck, back and abdomen.

One thing gardening has going for it over other forms of exercise is that most of that muscle work is low-impact, so you get the benefit of a good workout without jarring and stress on your joints.

Gardening can help keep your brain sharp

Those of us who haven't gardened much might assume that it's a pretty basic activity—put plants in dirt, water them sometimes, and voila! A garden. Alas, it's not that simple at all, but the complexity of it actually part of why it's so good for your brain. There are thousands of plants, each with their own specifications for growing and thriving. You have to know about soil composition, you have to take humidity levels, temperatures and sunlight into consideration, and as the weather changes you have to adjust and problem-solve to get the most out of your garden. Perhaps that's one reason why a study found that daily gardening is associated with a 36% reduced risk of dementia.

Gardening is good for overall mental health

In the digital age of constant distractions pulling our attention in a million different directions, gardening can offer a much-needed respite. As Penn State Master Gardener Kayla Oaster writes, "Connecting with the natural world, in general, helps relieve people from attention fatigue. Gardening is a great hands-on experience with nature. Working with the soil, smelling the plants and dirt, feeling the different textures, and seeing all the green foliage and flowers can help relax the mind and ground yourself. When you ground yourself, you reduce stress, anxiety, and even built-up anger."

Psychologist Seth J. Gillihan PhD takes it several steps further, explaining how gardening can help with mental health by helping people practice acceptance of things they can't control (weather, organic growth), moving beyond perfectionism and developing a growth mindset (mistakes will be made), staying in the present (focusing on what's in front of you) and reducing stress.

one person handing another person a bowl of cherry tomatoes

Gardening can help you connect with people.

Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash

Gardening connects you to community

While gardening is often a solo activity, the hobby of it connects you to a whole community of gardeners who are often happy to share knowledge, seeds, cuttings and more. Additionally, you can share whatever you grow—vegetables, flowers, whatever—with your neighbors and friends. Gardening offers plenty of opportunity to socialize, and having strong social ties is linked to increased resilience to anxiety and depression.

Gardening can be a meditative—some might say spiritual—practice

As you connect your hands with the Earth on the outside, you can also connect with yourself—your soul, your spirit, whatever you want to call your inner being—on the inside. Many people find gardening to be a meditative practice that helps them practice mindfulness and inner peace and connection And there are so many qualities needed for gardening that parallel qualities used in spiritual practice—patience, perseverance, surrendering control, reverence for beauty and more. Gardening means being up close and personal with nature, which can help people feel more connected to the source of life, whatever they perceive or beleive it to be. Many religion's scriptures use plant and garden metaphors to elucidate spiritual concepts, so gardening can help us deepen our understanding of spiritual teachings as well.

If you're looking for a comprehensive exercise that will not only provide a healthy workout for your body but also help sharpen your mind and nurture your spirit, try planting and tending a garden. Just make sure it's large or complex enough for you to reap the full benefits.

Family

A mom whose 19-yr-old died by suicide has a vital message for parents about marijuana today

"You may be thinking, 'C'mon, Laura, it's no big deal – it's just pot.' 'Pot's legal, so it must be safe.'"

Johnny Stack

Laura Stack's son Johnny lost his life to suicide three months ago when he was just 19 years old. Though she says the grief of his death is "still fresh," Stack took to Facebook to share something that happened three days before Johnny died, hoping it will help other parents whose kids may be at risk.

She wrote:

"On Sunday, November 17, 2019 around 5:30 PM, he came over for dinner. He lived in our condo a couple miles down the street and would often pop in for a home-cooked meal. This evening, he was a bit agitated but lucid. 'I need to tell you that you were right,' he told me. 'Right about what?' I asked. 'Right about the marijuana and the drugs. You told me weed and drugs would hurt my brain, and it's ruined my mind and my life. You were right all along. I'm sorry, and I love you.' He died by suicide three days later.

Stack explained that Johnny had "dabbed" since he was 15 or 16. "Do you understand the difference between smoking pot (and some edibles) and dabbing high-THC wax, shatter, or butter?" she asked. "Most of my friends look at me blankly when I say these words and say, 'I've never even heard about this.' If you don't know what cannabis extracts are, and you have children, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews between the ages of 14 and 24, PLEASE keep reading."

"I am NOT talking about those of you who are supporters of legal recreational marijuana for adults over 21 years old—it's your life—do what you want," Stack clarified. "I know some people who take it successfully for specific medical purposes, so please don't write comments in my post about my personal experience. I'm specifically talking about illegal usage by children and young adults under 21, whose adolescent brains are still forming. You may be thinking, 'C'mon, Laura, it's no big deal – it's just pot.' 'Pot's legal, so it must be safe.' Or 'I did pot when I was a kid, too, and look, it didn't hurt me.'

Well, have you recently studied TODAY'S pot, and have you personally seen its effects on your children like I have?"

Stack explained why today's recreational cannabis is so different:

"First, the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a crystalline compound that is the main active ingredient of cannabis that gives the 'high,' is extracted out of the cannabis so that it's nearly pure. THC is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis. Then a butane torch is used to heat the crystals (similar to beeswax) or oil in a 'rig' (just google it), or a vaping device with a heating element called a dab pen can be used. Forget the 'grass' or 'papers' that were rolled in the 70s and 80s. The pot we grew up with (10% or less THC content) is HUGELY different than today's high-concentrate extracts (often 80% THC content or higher)."

She also explained why young people tend to be affected more by these high THC concentrations, and that the earlier they start the more likely it is that they'll develop a disorder.

"The brain is still developing through a person's 20s, and psychotic disorders typically develop in the late teenage years. During brain formation, heavy cannabis use has been shown to have a negative effect on the formation of neural pathways. It can also lead to heavier drug use. While the vast majority of marijuana smokers never experience CIP, researchers have found that the earlier and heavier someone starts dabbing, the more likely it is that they will develop a disorder at some point (often years later). We must educate our children when they are young (10-12 years old) and use hyper-vigilance in the early teen years, which we found was much easier before the age of 16, when they could drive. We couldn't lock him up or monitor him 24/7. Keep talking and keep trying!!

The harmful combination of a still-forming mind, high-potency THC products, and a high frequency of use = Cannabis-Induced Psychosis. Yes, that's a real diagnosis (or High-THC Abuse – Severe). Repeated CIP incidents can trigger schizophrenia or other mental illness, and even when the cannabis is withdrawn, the psychosis doesn't go away. This is what happened to my beautiful boy. When he died, the toxicology report showed he had ZERO drugs in his system. He wasn't depressed, neglected, drugged, or unloved. He was psychotic, paranoid, and delusional by the time he reached 19, and he refused the anti-psychotic drugs that he now needed, because he thought he wasn't sick (common to schizophrenia)."

It's so easy to think that marijuana use isn't that big of a deal, especially since some states have begun legalizing the drug for recreational use and many people see it as "natural." But the mild, laid-back high many people picture with pot use is not the reality of many of today's marijuana products or methods. Parents need to be aware of the dangers cannabis-derived drugs pose to their children's mental health and educate them as early as possible.

Stack included the following links to articles and studies backing up what she's learned about today's THC products. These are things we all should read and share, as this knowledge and awareness could literally save someone's life.

Potent pot, vulnerable teens trigger concerns in first states to legalize marijuana - The Washington Post

The contribution of cannabis use to variation in the incidence of psychotic disorder - The Lancet Journal

Association of Cannabis Use in Adolescence and Risk of Depression, Anxiety, and Suicidality in Young Adulthood - Journal of the American Medical Association

Dabs, Wax, Vaping Weed, Edibles and the Real Impact of High Potency THC Products: What Parents Need to Know - Resources to Recover

How Marijuana May Damage Teenage Brains in Study Using Genetically Vulnerable Mice - Johns Hopkins

Significant link between cannabis use and onset of mania symptomsScience Daily

Cannabis-induced psychosis: A ReviewPsychiatric Times

Summary of literature on marijuana and psychosis - Moms Strong


Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on 02.21.20. The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and the subjects written about or quoted.

popular

The rise in mental health awareness has been great—but we're missing an important element

We should all be taught the tools to manage our brain.

Can we start taking a more proactive rather than reactive approach to mental health?

Nearly 300 years ago, Benjamin Franklin gave us the saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Oddly enough, he was talking about fire safety in that instance, but it holds true for health as well. It's arguably better to proactively prevent a problem than to wait for a crisis you have to fix.

It's taken a while—and there's still a ways to go, especially when it comes to insurance coverage—but disease prevention has caught on in the physical health world. We don't just treat illness when it comes; we know we need to proactively maintain good physical health. We have PSAs about eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly to prevent heart disease. We have dieticians and nutritionists who research what foods our bodies need (and need to avoid) to function at their best. We consume calcium to prevent osteoporosis and wear sunscreen to ward off skin cancer. We talk about the importance of sleep to let our bodies repair themselves.

Kids learn about physical health maintenance and disease prevention in health classes, and they should. Why don't we teach mental health maintenance the same way?

For sure, the dramatic rise in mental health awareness and education in the past decade or two has been extraordinary, fulfilling a long-neglected need. People are far more aware, accepting and understanding of mental health issues than in the past, and we've come a long way in removing the stigma of mental illness.

But our approach to mental health awareness and education is still largely reactive. "If you struggle with anxiety/depression/etc. it's okay to seek help and here's where to find it" is the most common messaging. And that's great—a huge step up from "Suck it up, buttercup. If you need therapy, you're a psycho." It's good that we've normalized going to therapy if you have a mental health issue, and it's good that we've reduced the shame of taking medication to manage mental health disorders. However, as a parent whose kids have struggled with various degrees of anxiety, I think we need a more proactive approach—one that focuses on mental health maintenance and provides tools that might prevent disorders from spinning out of control in the first place.

When I started taking my daughter to therapy for a debilitating anxiety disorder, I was surprised to find out how much I didn't know about how anxiety actually functions. I knew the basics of the "fight, flight or freeze" response and I knew anxiety meant that instinctual survival system was overreacting. What I didn't know was that the logical approaches my husband and I had tried to calm that system in our daughter were actually making her anxiety worse.

Thanks to her therapist, we learned all about the amygdala (the brain's fear center), what it responds to and what it doesn't. My daughter learned to recognize the cues that her anxiety was in its early stages, like a snowball starting to roll down a mountain, and how to manage it before it became a thundering avalanche. We learned that our repeated reassurances that everything was fine actually reinforced her anxiety instead of alleviating it, which is totally counterintuitive. My daughter learned how to talk to her brain when it told her something she feared was going to happen. Instead of saying, "No, that bad thing isn't going to happen," (the amygdala really hates being told it's wrong), she learned to say things like, "Maybe you're right, maybe you're wrong—let's wait 10 minutes and see what happens." That small difference in language inside her own head made a world of difference. Literally life-changing.

I don't have an anxiety disorder, but sitting in on her therapy sessions helped me learn a ton about how brains work in general. And it definitely helped me be better able to help my children. In every session, I kept wondering, "Why have I not learned these things before? Why do they not teach us about managing thoughts and feelings in school?" We all have brains. Most of us struggle with our brains misbehaving sometimes. One in three adults will deal with an anxiety disorder in their life, and many more will experience fear or worry that doesn't rise to the level of a full-fledge disorder, so isn't "How to manage the amygdala" something all of us should learn?

Imagine if we started developing skills and tools to manage our brains at a young age instead of waiting for mental health disorders to develop before learning them. Schools started down that road with social-emotional learning (SEL), which teaches teaches kids about recognizing their emotions and manage them with breathing exercises and the like, but SEL unfortunately got wrapped up in the craze over curriculum and has been banned in some states. But we don't need that large of a curriculum umbrella for simply teaching kids how their brains work. This is basic health information. Maybe people worry that proven mindfulness techniques will turn too woo woo or something, but there's plenty of evidence-based, research-backed, non-controversial tools we can share to manage and maintain our mental health.

And I'd argue such knowledge is far more useful to the average person than, say, knowing how to factor quadratic equations.

I have personally witnessed how passing on the strategies we learned with my daughter to her younger siblings helped them learn to manage their own anxiety so much earlier. Could we have prevented my daughter's anxiety disorder completely? I doubt it—some of us are genetically hardwired with certain tendencies. But I do think we could have prevented it from becoming debilitating if we had known from the start how to navigate what her brain was doing, saving her years of anguish and frustration.

While we can't necessarily prevent mental health disorders, we can set people up with a much fuller mental health toolbox a lot earlier than we do. We all benefit from understanding our own thoughts and feelings, and the idea that we should all learn more about how our brains work is…well, a no-brainer. Of course we need to treat disorders when they occur, but let's get proactive in how we manage mental health as well. With mental health issues reaching epidemic levels, it could only help.

Saturday Night Live/Youtube

Pete Davidson on "Saturday Night Live"

Singer Ariana Grande and "Saturday Night Live" cast member Pete Davidson were dating back in May of 2018.

Neither star had confirmed the relationship outright, but their reps weren't pushing back on reports claiming the two had linked up either. The singer and comedian's playful interactions on Instagram certainly suggested to fans the romance was budding.


While many celebrated the news, it inevitably came with a side of backlash too. Some of the criticism, however, crossed an unfortunate line.

Trolls began pointing to Davidson's history of mental illness to suggest he couldn't be in a healthy relationship.

The comedian felt it necessary to shut that down. Fast.

"Normally, I wouldn't comment on something like this cause like, fuck you," Davidson wrote in a note he shared to his Instagram story. "But [I've] been hearing a lot of 'people with BPD [Borderline Personality Disorder] can't be in relationships' talk. I just wanna let you know that's not true."

Davidson said he was diagnosed with BPD in 2016 after having lived through a "nightmare" year that involved rehab and grappling with the ups and downs of diagnosis. The comedian has also spoken openly about living with depression.

"Just because someone has a mental illness does not mean they can't be happy and in a relationship," Davidson wrote. "It also doesn't mean that person makes the relationship toxic."

After noting there are many life-changing treatments available for people like him, Davidson emphasized the importance of combating stigmas associated with mental illness.

"I just think it's fucked up to stigmatize people as crazy and say that they are unable to do stuff that anyone can do," he wrote. "It's not their fault and it's the wrong way for people to look at things."

Davidson has been praised by mental health advocates for using his celebrity to humanize his illnesses — and poking fun at himself along the way.

In one "SNL" segment that aired shortly after he went public with his diagnoses, the comedian spoke candidly about his mental illness with "Weekend Update" host Colin Jost.

"If you're in the cast of a late-night comedy show, it might help if they, you know, do more of your comedy sketches," Davidson joked about ways others can help him get through his dark times. "I was born depressed, but it might make me feel better if I was on TV more."

Like many comedians, Davidson often uses brash and cringeworthy lines as a form of therapy to overcome trauma. His father died on 9/11, for instance, and the comedian's folded the devastating loss into his routine with a comedic spin.

Laughter may not be the best medicine, but it certainly can help.

Davidson ended his message on Instagram clarifying why he decided to speak up in the first place.

"I'm simply writing this because I want everyone out there who has an illness to know that it's not true [that you can't be mentally ill and be in a relationship] and that anyone who says that is ill and full of shit," he wrote. "Mental illness is not a joke; it's a real thing."

"For all those struggling I want you to know that I love you and I understand you and it is going to be OK," Davidson concluded. "That's all. Love to everyone else."


This story originally appeared on 05.25.18