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Bloom in the city

  • Published at 03:53 pm February 6th, 2020
At_February 2020_Gardening
Photo: Bigstock

How gardening can keep you sane

The first thing one sees when stepping out in Dhaka, is the soul-sucking, time-consuming traffic. Some try to circumvent his by stepping on to the footpaths...only to find them taken over by street vendors and tea stalls. And this happens all day, every day. When one factors in contemporary lifestyles, including daily responsibilities, deadlines and goals, and the pressure to stay healthy, what one is left with is a laundry list of mental health issues like depression, anxiety and burnout.

This burnout isn’t unique to Dhaka city. Most major metropolises struggle with a balance between fast-paced urban lifestyles and a sense of well being. And some cities have found ways to tackle this with a return to nature.

Have you heard of Sydenham Garden? It is a London based well-being centre that consists of gardens, nature reserve and activity rooms aiming to help people to recover from mental and physical ill-health.

The idea that being close to plants promotes mental well-being isn’t unknown to us. Those who can access these, regularly visit nearby parks, some for physical exercise or just for some fresh air. Dwellers of Dhaka and other divisional cities, who are able to, have chosen to maintain gardens in their rooftops, balconies and even in the tiny corners of the living room. This story is about gardening as a means of saying goodbye to mental ill-health and living a quality life.

A way to reduce depression

According to National Institute of Mental Health survey titled "National Mental Health Survey, Bangladesh 2018-19" with the technical guide of the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 17% of adults in Bangladesh are suffering from mental health issues, where 16.8% are men and 17% are women. 92.3% do not seek medical attention.

The survey shows, 6.7% have depressive disorder, 4.5% anxiety, 2.1% somatic symptoms and related disorders.

It is a well known fact that gardening leads to eating healthy (through access to home-grown fruits and veggies), and exercise (physical labour is needed to maintain the garden). A good number of studies on mental health have also suggested exposure to green spaces yield positive results in combating mental health issues, and building resilience. The therapeutic value of being surrounded by green has been practiced from ancient times through to the modern day.

“Gardening is a prevalent treatment measure taken by physicians or psychotherapists nowadays when they find a patient with depression in their rudimentary stage,” says Farjana Sharmin, a psychotherapist by profession. She added that patients who are diagnosed with advanced stages of depression have also been introduced to gardening as a therapeutic approach, once they have demonstrated the ability to function at a basic daily level through therapy and medication.

“A feeling of self realization that gradually grows inside a depressed human being after sowing a seed, taking care of it regularly and experiencing the growth within a short amount of time, of doing something for themself makes them feel happy and boosts their self-esteem,” said Farjana.

Building connection with surroundings

Owning even one plant and nurturing it daily, establishes the sense inside humans of building and improving relationships with others, thus helping reduce stress and anxiety.

A dedicated urban gardener for more than two decades, Hosne Ara Begum, a resident of Dhanmondi, owns a small garden on the rooftop of her building, together with balcony and window in her apartment. Before moving to her current residence she made an extended chamber in alignment with every window with proper drainage system to make sure that every corner of her house could bathe in green. “I have often noticed that flowers don’t bloom If I don't visit them. I can feel a strong bond between us,” said the retired teacher of Home Science from Habibullah Bahar University College.

"A good number of studies on mental health have also suggested exposure to green spaces yield positive results in combating mental health issues, and building resilience"

Teach to live in the present

All human beings don’t respond the same way. For some, accepting any disorder in life, be it a failure or a loss, such as getting divorced, death of dear one or not being able to achieve any goal, may cause them to plunge into agony. Often such situations can lead them towards cognitive dissonance, which is a psychological state of anxiety, depression, or phobia, which may even lead to panic attacks and suicide attempts, mentioned Farjana.

Unable to endure any negative event from the past, or being anxious about the future, people with cognitive dissonance forget to live in the present. Gardening fights this by forcing them to focus on the now, the experience of watching the plant grow, bloom and produce fruit.

Proud owner of 150 bonsais, Israt Jahan, an active member of Bangladesh Bonsai Society has been gardening since her student years. She got her first bonsai as a gift from her brother during his China visit in 1988. Although the Bonsai couldn’t survive since it required special treatment of which Israt was unaware about at the time, she has since learned everything she needs to know about this particular gardening art. “At the age of 50, and being a woman, I can tell that human life is full of challenges. Gardening has taught me how to conquer any situation with happiness,” said Israt.  

“Gardening is a more engaging and evidence based approach. Through this process people learn such metaphoric learning from gardening and relate them to such real-life concerns. And they start to live in the present without worrying too much about the future or past,” said Farjana 

Boosting patience and managing anger

Have you heard any incident of a gardener uprooting his plant because it couldn’t be able to fulfill his expectation? It doesn’t happen very often, if at all. 

The process of nurturing the plants through watering, trimming leaves as well waiting for them to flower or mature thoroughly boosts the patience level of the caregiver. 

The increase in patience helps people to manage anger in real life situations. It's absolutely normal that people express anger, since it is an emotion. Controlling the scale of anger and directing it constructively is essential.  And gardening helps people to achieve this skill. “Gardening helped me a lot to overrule my anger,” said Rowshan, the owner of a small garden in her apartment’s balcony.

Besides health, urban gardening is also credited for improving quality of life, education, environmental sustainability social skills, and combating pain and smoking habits.

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