The necessary restrictions of Covid19 have disrupted reliable routines and dislodged familiar reference points. My usual schedule of going to the gym every morning, writing uninterrupted for a couple of hours, seeing clients, and being social has been sidelined. Now, even, trips to the grocery store need to be planned and all contact beyond my pod has gone virtual.  The mornings are spent overseeing home school schedules; the afternoons dedicated to finding activities to keep the kids engaged without putting them in front of a screen. My appointment calendar is starkly bare and, on a very basic level, I feel disoriented. 

I know I’m not alone. Sequestered at home with a lot of time to fill, many people are reporting epic cleaning episodes, media binging flurries, and baking marathons. For me, working in the garden does the trick. And, what a great time to be in the garden! The rains have been plentiful and springtime is here. This means everything is blooming, the air is fresh, and the weeds compliant. Who knew that rooting out dandelions could deliver such pleasure?  Of course, it’s satisfying to get these little nuisances out of my yard but it’s more than that. When I spend time in the garden, my low-level agitation dissipates and I end up feeling more peaceful and grounded. It may surprise you to learn this positive outcome is sourced as much in biochemistry as it is in a love of gardening. 

Being around plants delivers a good dose of a little-known mood booster, negative ions. Negative ions are oxygen atoms charged with an extra electron. These odorless, tasteless, invisible ions occur in various concentrations outdoors, in nature. Over the past twenty years, research has shown that exposure to negative ions increases our levels of serotonin- a neurotransmitter that’s connected with feeling good, alleviating depression, relieving stress, and boosting energy. Studies done in Japan concluded that simply looking at plants will reduce stress, fear, anger, and sadness and lower blood pressure, pulse rate, and muscle tension. It turns out, when I lean over to smell those intriguing scented geraniums, I’m also inhaling in a bunch of feel-good ions!

So, if Covid19 compliance has you or your kids in a funk, the best remedy may be those negative ions- right outside the backdoor in your garden. Whether you actually take trowel in hand, sit in stillness, or romp around wildly, being outdoors will get the serotonin flowing. It also expands your perspective. Here, instead of the incessant drill of negative and more negative news, the big story features apricot drop, a pair of hooded orioles, a blue belly lizard, and an occasional bunny.  The other day, watching the clouds track across the sky captivated my attention for 30 minutes. This was thirty minutes when I was not ensnared in the unfolding pandemic drama- trying to figure where it’s all going and when it’s going to end. I was simply there, in the garden, feeling more optimistic, relaxed and invigorated. But, don’t take my word for it. Spend some time in your garden communing with nature and notice how you feel. Does your experience validate the science?

We’ve been sheltering-at-home for weeks and there are weeks more to go.  Adjusting to this means setting up new routines and remembering old reference points. Instead of lamenting limitations, why not initiate a practice of going outside every day to connect with Nature? Delight in the full bloom of cherry blossoms, lilacs and peonies. Let the negative ions do their work. Do a bit of physical labor to get your circulation flowing. Feel the earth under your feet; get your hands in the soil. Pull a weed, prune the lavender. Or, simply find a comfortable place to sit quietly. No matter how or where, spending twenty minutes outdoors helps you get oriented in the here and now. Here life goes on and now you’re part of the flow. This reminder might be just the therapy you need.  

Authors note: If the garden isn’t your thing, just get outside anywhere. As research demonstrates, being amidst greenery guarantees you’ll reap the serotonin benefits of negative ions. With social distancing in mind, take a twenty-minute walk on the beach or in a nearby park. Immerse yourself in the woods on a wilderness trail. Or, just gaze on the photo at the top of this post! Whichever way, simply getting in touch with the natural world puts you right in the zone.