I’m not sure how old I was when I memorized the serenity prayer, but the current moment has made me glad I did. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

2020 is out of my control. Granted, no year of my life has been in my control, but it’s nice to think so. It’s empowering to feel that you are in control. While this year has been a glaring example that we are not in complete control of our lives, it has also made me keenly aware of how important it is be in control of our thoughts, emotions, and behavior.

Ahhhh, but the illusion of control… I’ve had the feeling of being in control and I like it. Walking across the stage to retrieve my degree, I felt in control of my future. Going to therapy gave me a sense of control over how my past affects the present. Most days of my adult life, I felt completely, entirely in control of what was happening and what was to come. Until now…

As someone who spent years as a “start up” and “turn around” marketer, I am a doer who creates strategies and narratives that resonate with a target audience. As a wellness writer, my objective for the last decade has been the same— to create content that has a positive affect on the audience. In 2020, I became the audience. “Physician heal thyself.”

After a few weeks sheltered in place I felt captured, stagnant, not in control of my life. I watched the news of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, feeling helpless. I watched the death toll from COVID 19 climb, feeling helpless. For a “doer” like me, it wasn’t working. I needed to produce something. I need to see the fruit of my labor. So… I started an herb garden.

I’ve never had a green thumb so I was pretty sure gardening wasn’t for me. However, this is 2020 and crazier things have happened. So, I gave it a shot. I started with a fresh mint plant. Added basil a week later. Then rosemary a couple of weeks after that. Once I got my footing I started growing jalapeno peppers.

Did gardening take away the pain of civil unrest and political upheaval? No, but gardening did a few things that helped me deal with that pain.

Gardening calmed my emotions so I could think.

In 2010, the Journal of Health Psychology published a study that showed gardening has a positive affect on the stress hormone cortisol after a person experiences acute stress— otherwise known as 2020. The study finds…

“Gardening and reading each led to decreases in cortisol during the recovery period, but decreases were significantly stronger in the gardening group. Positive mood was fully restored after gardening, but further deteriorated during reading.”

Watering , pruning, and talking to my plants lowered my heart rate and settled my emotions. Yes, I talk to my plants. Once I calmed down, I was able to strategize how to use my voice productively in this moment.

Gardening boosted my mood.

Not only does gardening calm your stress, but a 2011 multi-year study found that it actively boosts your mood. Researchers discovered that gardening has a positive affect on baseline depression levels and the affect continued at the 3-month check in.

You’ll find the popular hashtag on social media channels, #plantsmakemehappy — because they do.

Gardening gave me a sense of accomplishment.

Quarantined and doused with rhetoric and retractions daily, I felt like nothing would ever get done. It started to feel that I was spinning like a merry-go-round, without much “merry”. Then, my first little pepper popped. I did it! I actually produced something from my efforts. It felt good.

It also reminded me that things don’t change over night. That single pepper took weeks to sprout. I watered it, fed it, and made sure it had plenty of light. I was consistent. I kept showing up and eventually— progress.

Gardening reinforced the importance of self-care.

Watering and feeding my plants, making sure they had enough light in their lives became a giant metaphor for my own health and well-being. Not only did gardening improve my emotional wellness, but it was a reminder that living things require care and nurturing to thrive.

2020 has been filled with many dark clouds, but there is a silver lining. I’m taking better care of myself. Like my plants…I’m hydrating, drinking at least 64 ounces of water a day. I am feeding myself vitamin-rich veggies, eating a salad every day. Most importantly, I’m getting enough light — positive, uplifting, affirming messages so that I continue to thrive in this moment and beyond.