Procrastiplanting: when you have a million things to do – but ignore everything and re-pot plants
14 April, 2022
In the middle of a hustling and bustling high street, just a ten-minute walk away from the community mental health centre, is a park with a beautiful walled garden that I only discovered recently, which offered a tranquil oasis away from both the business of the high street and of the clinic. With the favourable turn in the weather, what more could a person ask for?
Many of us (including myself) became lockdown gardeners during the pandemic. After killing a series of plants, an impulsive purchase of a peace lily houseplant from Sainsbury marked the beginning of what would almost become an obsession. Very quickly a corner of our living room turned into a mini-garden centre. Ranging from pothos, anthurium, schefflera, night blooming jasmine and of course, the peace lily. Many experiments failed, for example trying to grow coriander from seed and keeping miniature roses alive. But each attempt instilled a new hope that “this might work”!
The pandemic, being a period of chaos and uncertainty, was a time when I experienced feelings of despair, helplessness and lack of control. Gardening in those difficult times served as a much-needed distraction and gave me a sense of purpose when things largely felt futile. I recall starting my mornings with anticipation to see how my plants were doing – whether there was any sign of growth, a new bud, a new leaf? Trips to garden centres became frequent. From indoors, I had to focus my attention to the back garden because I was running out of space!
In recent conversation with a fellow gardening enthusiast and co-incidentally also a past RCPsych Green Champion, Dasal Abayaratne, we discussed how gardening had helped us in good and not-so-good times. There was just something about planting a seed. The childlike anticipation that something will come out of this, no matter how big or small. How sometimes despite all our efforts, things don’t work, but then learning to accept and honour that and then move on to try yet again. It is also a huge lesson in managing uncertainty - a peril we deal with almost daily in our professional and personal lives. Linking with nature gives you utmost faith that every seed you sow will reap results in some form or another.
In her recent book, The Well Gardened Mind1, psychiatrist Dr Sue Stuart-Smith describes seeds as having a “tomorrow ready-built into them”; a tomorrow that requires us, the “good-enough” gardener, to unlock it. She also speaks about gardening being an intrinsically mindful activity. It requires us to pause and adapt to a slower pace, rather than the constant rushed ‘threat-mode’ that we often find ourselves in as psychiatrists. A mode that is unproductive at best and leads to burnout at worst. In essence, Dr Stuart-Smith argues that through the simple act of tending plants, our minds too can be ‘gardened’.
There is ample evidence in literature linking the benefits of gardening and time in nature on mental and physical wellbeing2. It has been shown to decrease heart rate, blood pressure3 and decrease cortisol levels4. A recent randomised control trial for people with stress disorders found that a 10-week gardening group of a few hours a week had similar beneficial impact as individual CBT5.
All in all, gardening has been a fulfilling process of not just connecting with nature, but also getting a better understanding of my personal and professional identities. It has helped me develop skills to tolerate distress and uncertainty and to put my trust in the process of getting to where I’d like to. It changed my perspective towards a life that had very easily turned into a rat race. It taught me that slowing down, recharging, and recovering were equally important parts of “progressing forward” as were hustling and striving. And so, slow down, connect with nature, and plant some seeds…!
By Dr Sidra Chaudhry (ST5) and Dr Dasal Abayaratne (ST6), Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust
- Stuart-Smith S. The Well Gardened Mind. London: William Collins; 2020.
- Kamioka H, Tsutani K, Yamada M, et al. Effectiveness of horticultural therapy: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(5):930-943.
- Gladwell VF, Brown DK, Barton JL, et al. The effects of views of nature on autonomic control. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012;112(9):3379-3386.
- Van Den Berg AE, Custers MH. Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress. J Health Psychol. 2011;16(1):3-11.
- Stigsdotter UK, Corazon SS, Sidenius U, Nyed PK, Larsen HB, Fjorback LO. Efficacy of nature-based therapy for individuals with stress-related illnesses: randomised controlled trial. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2018;213(1):404-411.
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