Gardening and Mental Health

“Nature itself is the best physician.”

– Hippocrates

Gardening is one of the most popular ways in which people interact with nature with an estimated 1 in 3 U.S. adults engaging in gardening on a regular basis.

Is gardening or spending time in nature a part of your life?  

Research suggests that gardening and other activities involving nature can be beneficial to our mental health and well-being. A 2016 meta-analysis or summary of recent research on the health benefits of gardening found that participation in gardening activities reduced the severity of depressed mood and anxiety, reduced stress, and enhanced overall quality of life. Likewise, a more recent 2020 meta-analysis of 77 studies, including both the act of gardening as well as viewing gardens, again demonstrated links between gardening and improved mental health. 

Finding time and space for gardening is not always easy. However, another significant research finding was the cumulative positive effect on mental health even from repeated short-term engagement in gardening activities. Therefore, having even a small space and a brief period for regular gardening or growing plants can be beneficial.  

If gardening is difficult or limited by time and space, simply taking a walk or finding other ways of spending time in nature is beneficial. For example, a 2012 study examined how walking in nature may be beneficial for individuals with major depressive disorder. In this study participants exhibited significant increases in memory span and mood after a nature walk, extending earlier work demonstrating the cognitive and affective benefits of interacting with nature.  

Lastly, research continues to explore the impact of simply having more green spaces in our environment. For example, a 2014 study found that higher levels of neighborhood green space are associated with significantly lower levels of symptomology for depression, anxiety, and stress, after controlling for a wide range of confounding factors.

Whether through gardening, nature walks, or even just spending time in green spaces, connecting with nature is an effective way to promote your mental health and well-being. How might you bring more nature into your life?

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com

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References

Berman, M. G., Kross, E., Krpan, K. M., Askren, M. K., Burson, A., Deldin, P. J., Kaplan, S., Sherdell, L., Gotlib, I. H., & Jonides, J. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of affective disorders, 140(3), 300–305. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2012.03.01

Beyer, K. M., Kaltenbach, A., Szabo, A., Bogar, S., Nieto, F. J., & Malecki, K. M. (2014). Exposure to neighborhood green space and mental health: evidence from the survey of the health of Wisconsin. International journal of environmental research and public health, 11(3), 3453–3472. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph110303453

Howarth, M., Brettle, A., Hardman, M., & Maden, M. (2020). What is the evidence for the impact of gardens and gardening on health and well-being: a scoping review and evidence-based logic model to guide healthcare strategy decision making on the use of gardening approaches as a social prescription. BMJ open, 10(7), e036923. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2020-036923

Soga, M., Gaston, K. J., & Yamaura, Y. (2016). Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventive medicine reports, 5, 92–99. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.007

Food for the Heart

“A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”

-St. Francis of Assisi

A retreat is typically defined as withdrawing away from enemy forces that are overpowering or more generally as an act of moving away from something difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable. From a spiritual perspective, a retreat is further defined as a time away for reflection, prayer, and meditation. In all forms, taking a retreat involves an intentional act of moving back or withdrawing to reflect, reconnect, and sometimes heal.

Have you ever been on a retreat or taken time away from others? What do you recall about this experience? What comes to mind when you think of taking a retreat now? What would you imagine an ideal retreat might look like? How would you imagine feeling afterwards?

Stepping outside of our busy daily routine and our ordinary identities to rest can help us to restore a deeper connection to ourselves and the present moment. Taking a retreat is a useful way to think about stepping outside of our experience. The Buddhist teacher, Ajahn Chah, called such moments, “food for the heart.”

Regular retreats lasting several days can be incredibly helpful, but not always practical. Nevertheless, we can incorporate the concept of a retreat into our daily lives in small ways. Taking five minutes to do nothing but sit or reflect, pray, or meditate during our day is a small retreat that can allow space for our heart to be fed.

Consider designing your own five-minute daily retreat. What would you like to experience? Would you prefer to sit quietly and notice the sights and sounds around you or reflect using practices such as gratitude or loving kindness? Perhaps you might use a five-minute retreat to pray or read and reflect on a meaningful scripture or text? Perhaps you might benefit most from the structure of a guided meditation or in recalling a pleasant memory or place. If sitting quietly is difficult, you could try a more active retreat such as a brief walk under the trees outside of work or around your neighborhood.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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A Life of Miracles

Thich Knat Hanh, a much beloved Buddhism monk, teacher, author, and social justice advocate recently died at age 95. Ordained as a monk aged 16 in Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh is widely credited with promoting a kind of engaged Buddhism that could respond directly to the needs of society. He was a prominent teacher and social activist in his home country before finding himself exiled for calling for peace. In the West he played a key role in introducing mindfulness and created mindful communities (sanghas) around the world. He is also notable in his role promoting interfaith dialogue and understanding. His teachings have impacted politicians, business leaders, activists, teachers, and countless others.

In recent years, Thich Nhat Hanh led events for members of US Congress and for parliamentarians in the UK, Ireland, India, and Thailand. He also addressed the World Parliament of Religions in Melbourne, calling for specific steps to reverse the cycle of violence, war and global warming. In 2018, Thich Nhat Hanh moved back to Từ Hiếu Temple in Vietnam where he was first ordained when he was sixteen years old. 

I was captivated by Thich Nhat Hanh at a talk he gave at Loyola University Chicago, where my mother and I were attending my freshman orientation. I vividly recall his presence walking around campus with in large crowd of fellow monks. I have since read many of his books and interview transcripts. This week I have selected a short section from, “A Life of Miracles,” which I believe illustrates both the simplicity and nuance of his teaching:

As we sit down next to a steam, we can listen to its laughter and watch its sparking waters, noticing the pebbles glistening and the fresh plants nearby, and we may be overcome with happiness. We are with the steam’s freshness, purity, and clarity. But in just an instant we may find we’ve had enough. Our heart is troubles, and we think of other things. We are no longer at one with the steam.

It is of no use to sit in a peaceful forest if our mind is lost in the city. When we live with a child or a friend, their freshness and warmth can relax us. But if our heart is not with them, their precious presence is neglected, and they no longer exist. We must be aware of them to appreciate their value, to allow them to be our happiness. If through carelessness and forgetfulness we become dissatisfied with them, we begin asking too much of them or reprimanding them, we will lose them. Only after they are gone, all our regrets are in vain.  

Around us, life bursts fourth with miracles, a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles, eyes that see thoughts of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Revisiting Simplicity in 2022

What comes to mind when you think of simplicity? Do you have a positive or negative reaction? Do you wish you had more simplicity in your life? What would that look like? In what ways can you experience more simplicity in your life today? 

It is easy to get distracted by the many things in our lives. Foremost, our society tells us that we must be active and striving to make progress at all times. Even our vacations can become a list of achievements. Beyond these pressures, we are increasingly surrounded by distractions such as cell phones, email, and social media accounts.  

Simplicity is a great way to unburden ourselves and allow for more open space in our lives. As a result, we might experience a greater sense of purpose and intention as well as a stronger connection to what we most want or desire.  

Here are a few practical ways of inviting more simplicity into your life:  

Shift your diet to include more foods that are simple and natural. 

Eat mindfully and in moderation.  

Consider what you already have in your life. Develop an awareness and compassionate concern for the many people around the world struggling with little or no resources.

Lower your overall level of personal consumption and buy fewer items to make yourself feel good. Focus on buying only what you truly need.  

Develop a meditation practice by devoting as little as five minutes a day to meditation. 

Spend time in nature (without headphones).  

Invest in yourself by further developing your professional skills or engage in more creative projects.

Engage in gratitude practices such as a daily gratitude journal.  

Declutter your environment and consider donating items you no longer use.

Unplug from your phone, social media, and perhaps even television.

Notice and embrace moments of silence.  

Simplicity can help you feel more connected and intentional in your life while also decreasing the burden of having too much on your plate. Choose one or more of these strategies to invite more simplicity into your life today.    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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“How Does This Work?” Post-Pandemic Social Readjustment

As the total number of Americans with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine closes in on 50% and the CDC loosens restrictions, we are faced with unique challenges around social reengagement.

In many ways, vaccinations and reopening is a cause for excitement and new hope for life returning to normal. However, you are not alone if you are feeling anxious about returning to a world with normal levels of in-person social interactions. According to a recent poll conducted in March by the American Psychological Association, at least half of all respondents indicated they feel uneasy about readjusting to in-person interaction.    

Returning to life as we knew it before the pandemic presents many challenges. For over a year we have worked to adjust to an entirely new lifestyle. Readjusting back from such a dramatic change is no easy task. 

We have also moved into a digital world and away from the long-standing social and cultural norms that have guided our interactions for decades. When we have been around other people, we have faced the challenge of engaging with covered faces and social distance. Indeed, wearing a mask and social distancing emerged as a necessary means of remaining safe from a potentially deadly threat. The threat was a virus, but the virus was spread through contact with other people. Others became an existential threat to our existence. 

Tips for social readjustment

There are several helpful things to keep in mind as we move forward. Foremost, increased anxiety about in-person social interaction is a normal and reasonable response to a remarkably scary and uncertain circumstance. This kind of reminder can be helpful as it allows us to normalize our reactions and respond with compassion towards ourselves and others, rather than judging ourselves or denying our feelings.  

Give voice to your experiences and speak openly when you are uncertain. We have never been here before. Therefore, it can be helpful to normalize uncertainty or awkwardness when interacting with others. Ask, “How are we going to approach this?” or “I’m not sure what we do here, what would make sense to you?” Not only does this help normalize the experience, but it also allows for collaboration and creates a shared experience by sending the message – we are in this together.  

Face your fears around social interaction when you feel reasonably safe. Given the role of avoidance in perpetuating anxiety, be mindful of unnecessary avoidance. Ask yourself if your discomfort is grounded in a real concern for your safety or if it is related more to the discomfort of adjusting back to social interactions.  

If you are concerned about being awkward, remember that social confidence is something you can develop and improve as you get more practice. Your first few social interactions are likely to be more awkward than your later interactions. Make a list of social interactions you anticipate over the next few months and start by practicing the easier or least intimidating scenarios. 

Over the past year we have been forced to attend to our social interactions in new ways, often with an overarching hypervigilance grounded in genuine fear. Despite the challenges ahead, there is good reason to believe that things will get easier with patience and compassion for yourself and your neighbors.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Self-forgiveness

We all make mistakes. Yet, it is important to learn ways of accepting and moving on from our mistakes so that we don’t become overwhelmed by feelings of frustration, anger, and guilt, or stuck in a repetitive loop of rumination and self-hatred.  

Although we typically think of forgiveness as something we grant to others, it is important to consider the positive impact of forgiving ourselves. Self-forgiveness is a helpful process that involves recognizing and acknowledging mistakes, validating our feelings, taking responsibility or corrective action when possible and reasonable, and finally shifting our focus to learning, growth, and acceptance. Self-forgiveness is not intended to be an excuse and should not lead away from taking responsibility or empathizing with anyone harmed as the result of a mistake.  

Research suggests that the practice of self-forgiveness is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety as well as improved physical health, such as lower blood pressure. Practicing self-forgiveness can also allow for us to cultivate an attitude of forgiveness in our relationships with others and motivation to acknowledge, repair, and rebuild relationships when mistakes happen.

Self-forgiveness is often a significant challenge. For many reasons, a lot of people find it difficult to forgive themselves and may hold beliefs about needing to punish themselves or suffer consequences. Self-criticism and perfectionism can also make it difficult to practice self-forgiveness and we tend to have a lot of practice reinforcing these beliefs and behaviors.  

Indeed, taking responsibility and corrective action is an important part of moving on from a mistake. However, perpetuating our distress in the form of guilt, self-criticism, and self-hate is rarely productive as it most often harms our ability to learn and grow, while also serving to reinforce a negative self-image. 

Connecting with our inherent worth and value is a helpful place to focus when we are shifting to growth and self-acceptance. It is helpful to recognize and separate your mistake from yourself – you are not your mistake. It is important to remind yourself that you are far more than one mistake or even one decision. In this manner we can begin to see how it is possible to separate out a mistake and move away from identifying with the mistake as part of our identity or self-worth. To be sure, people of great integrity and intelligence make mistakes just like everyone else.  

Before moving to self-forgiveness, it can be important to reassess your assignment of blame. If you tend to unfairly blame yourself or take on responsibility for things that are completely out of your control, it might be important to work on understanding why this is the case. Nevertheless, in most cases, self-forgiveness can be a meaningful way to improve your relationship with yourself and others.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Embracing the Complexities of Life

The other afternoon I had the thought that I didn’t want to get back on my computer to finish work just in time to rush off and pick up my small children for a long evening of hide-and-seek, amongst other things. All of this takes a lot of energy and I was feeling a bit drained. I also simultaneously felt excited to finish my project for work and I love playing hide-and-seek with my children. I take a deep breath and remind myself that two opposites can exist at the same time. I can feel both tired and excited. I can wish for more time to myself and also love playing with my children. 

This powerful reminder can go a long way – that two opposite truths can exist at the same time or what is referred to as dialectics. This is a key concept for a therapy approach called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and can be usefully integrated into daily life to foster greater flexibility and openness, while also reducing the pressure to feel only one way or think only one thing. When we embrace the dialectical nature of life we can experience greater freedom through flexibility and acceptance.  

How often do you tell yourself, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” or “I shouldn’t be thinking that,” or question, “That’s not what a good friend/parent/spouse would want to do.” In these moments we are selling ourselves short on the complexity of our human experience. This makes sense given the pressures we all might feel to know or have the right answer, do the right thing, or even feel the right way. Ultimately, this leads us into a rigid seesaw game of all-or-nothing or black-and-white thinking. We can become rigid and close-minded about the way we think or feel forced to choose and maintain one truth, ultimately leading to increased stress and anxiety when faced with a reality that does not meet our expectations.  

Embracing the dialectical nature of life by reminding ourselves that more than one truth can exist at the same time allows for greater freedom and flexibility in our lives. Take a moment to reflect on the last time you felt pulled between two feelings or found yourself stuck in a pattern of black-and-white thinking. Some examples might include thoughts such as “Either I make a perfect dinner or I can’t cook,” “If I make a mistake at work others will think I’m careless,” “Either I’m always on time or I’m unreliable,” or “If I feel frustrated by having no time to myself I’m being selfish,” and “If I let my friend down tonight I’m a bad friend.”  

All of these examples are limiting and oversimplified. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in this pattern you are not alone. Most people find themselves engaged in this pattern of thinking at various times, particularly when overly stressed or pressured by high expectations. It also makes sense that we attempt to zero in on a specific meaning or answer. Might it be possible to be a good cook and still make a fairly bland dinner? It is possible to be an excellent spouse and also want to be alone at times? Can you make a mistake or let a friend down, yet still be a good friend?

Take some time to pause and observe your thoughts and feelings. Notice if you are struggling to allow only one truth into your experience. Notice if you are engaged in binary thinking, such as all-or-nothing or black-and-white patterns. Take a moment to step back and give yourself space for more than one truth to exist. Embracing the dialectical nature of human experience may provide an opportunity for greater freedom and flexibility in your day-to-day life as you allow room for the full range of complex and seemingly contradictory experiences. Human beings are not either-or’s, we are both-and’s.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Visit us at www.lindquistpsych.com

Everyday Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment. The regular practice of mindfulness over a period of time can have a profound impact on our health and well-being. 

Meditation is often thought of as the best means for practicing mindfulness. However, it can be very useful to think broadly about mindfulness practice, particularly in a busy world. In fact, it is precisely the practice of mindfulness in the midst of daily chaos that makes this practice so profound. As mindfulness becomes more integrated into our way of being in the world, it increasingly allows us to shift our awareness in ways that can help us deal more effectively with stress and anxiety, while simultaneously enhancing our capacity to experience pleasure and satisfaction.  

Everyday mindfulness is one way we can exercise our attention on a regular basis without having to change anything in our routine or set aside time for meditation, although this is still highly recommended. We can practice everyday mindfulness by bringing our attention more fully to the present moment and focusing on our senses in the here-and-now. The following are my favorite examples for practicing everyday mindfulness.

Taking a shower. Bring your attention to the warmth and calming sensations of the water on your skin and the smell of the soap or shampoo.  

Brushing your teeth. Bring your attention to the feeling of the brush as well as the taste of the toothpaste. 

Walking. Bring your attention to the movement of your legs with each step and the pressure of your feet on the ground. If you are outside, notice the feeling of the breeze on your face or the sunshine. Notice anything else that brings your awareness to the present moment, such as the sounds of birds or passing cars.  

Folding laundry or doing dishes. Notice the feeling of the clothing and bring your awareness to the repetition of folding without needing to rush. Notice the feeling of the water on your hands and the repetition of placing dishes with care.

Eating a meal. Bring your attention to each bite of food. Notice the taste and the texture. You may also practice chewing each bite more completely and reflect upon the source of the food you are eating. Notice how your body feels and bring your attention to feeling full at a nature pace.  

In each of these examples, the core practice involves bringing your attention back to the present moment or here-and-now as our mind will naturally wonder. In bringing our attention back to the present, we are exercising our attention and strengthening our ability to connect to the here-and-now.

There are endless possibilities for practicing everyday mindfulness, but it might be helpful to select one or two of these to get started. I feel confident that regular practice of everyday mindfulness can have a positive impact on your well-being and enhance your capacity to be fully present in your life.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com

Poetry & Self-Expression

Poetry is many things. I often think of it as an examination of the human condition as we put our experiences into words that attempt to capture something or express something important about life. I have always been drawn to both reading and writing poetry. It provides is an excellent avenue for self-growth, self-care, and self-reflection.  

Below I’ve included one of my favorite poems. You might consider finding one of your favorite poems today or writing a short poem yourself. If you don’t have a favorite poem, considering reading some poetry and finding something that resonates with you. If nothing else, poetry may give you some time to pause and help you tap into your own creativity.  

“Sweet Darkness”

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb
tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

– David Whyte

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com

Always Arriving: Embracing Each Moment in Times of Transition

Transitions are often times of mixed emotions. Sometimes transitions are by choice, but many times we are not given a choice. People handle transitions and change in all kinds of ways. Depending on the nature of the transition, you may feel anxious and experience self-doubt or feel angry and confused. In some cases, you may feel excited and look to celebrate the transition. In other cases, you may feel slightly numb or disconnected as you approach a transition and find yourself doing all kinds of things to distract yourself from dealing with the change that is about to occur. 

The stress we can experience during a time of transition is often linked to a flood of emotions and a strong underlying current of resistance. Most of us resist transitions and change because they involve moving into unfamiliar territory with unpredictable emotions. Change can be so difficult that many people perpetuate unhealthy behaviors or relationships because doing something differently is experienced (consciously or unconsciously) as more difficult than changing the status quo. One of the more helpful things you can do during a transition is to remain open to your feelings and allow yourself to experience whatever comes up for you.

Mindfulness is extremely beneficial during times of transition. Curiosity in particular can be helpful as it encourages us to stay open to the feelings, thoughts, and sensations that arise in any given moment and allow our understanding to unfold. Fear and uncertainty are difficult, but they can become more manageable as we notice the subtleties of our experience and open ourselves to the complexity that resides beyond the initial layer of anxiety and fear.  

In reality, we are always arriving. It might seem radical at first, but we are always in a state of transition and with each breath we transition to the next moment. If we take a step back and approach our lives as an ongoing experience of emergence, we might be less intimidated by change. Likewise, if we consider all of our emotions as reminders that we are truly alive, we might experience greater freedom and less of a need to fight against fear and uncertainty. With an attitude of acceptance and curiosity we can practice moving forward moment-by-moment.  From this moment to the next.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com