How is your garden growing? A garden is often used as a metaphor for life. During COVID-19 times, we may ask “What’s the point? I am stuck inside, and my life has shut down. Where is the garden in that?” The truth is, now is a great opportunity to tend the garden of your life. With lockdowns and quarantines, COVID-19 has provided us more time at home, more opportunities to reevaluate what is important to us. Kind of like weeds, we can easily accumulate too much of something that blocks the growth of what matters to us the most. For example, we may find ourselves feeling the weight of other people’s expectations and opinions. These may be real or imagined, but nonetheless, they can interfere with our growth. We may be spending a lot of time thinking of the past and our mistakes. This focus on the past detracts from the present moment, from the ability to “get our hands dirty” right here, right now. After all, the present moment is where the action is.
We do ourselves a favor by taking a good look at what is growing in our gardens and deciding what is most beneficial to nurture. We want to weed out the self-limiting beliefs, the fear, and the judgement. These thoughts and feelings bring us down and prevent us from practicing good self-care. By clearing the weeds, regularly, there is enough space for the plants and flowers to grow. By planting good seeds, we can look to the future with curiosity and hope.
What are some of the “good seeds” we can plant in our gardens? I would like to start with gratitude. It has been demonstrated that people who regularly practice gratitude feel more optimistic. Gratitude for the small things in life: the green light on the road, the smile of a friend or a satisfying meal. Each of these are easy to overlook, but with an attitude of gratitude, they become data for the richness of our lives. One practice that has been beneficial for many is to make it a habit to identify 3 things at the end of each day for which you are grateful. Research has demonstrated that people who do this practice of daily gratitude rate themselves as feeling more hopeful and satisfied at the end of 2 weeks than a control group who did not use this practice. I challenge you, right now, to name 3 things you are grateful for today. Let that sink in. Let the seeds of that gratitude take root in the soil of your garden. Let gratitude be what grows in your life.
Another “good seed” is taking care of our physical bodies. Eating well, staying active, getting enough rest and sleep are all ways in which we nurture ourselves. Like a plant needs rich soil, sunlight and water, our bodies need care. By investing in our health, we ensure that we have a strong foundation from which to meet life’s challenges.
We can also plant seeds of compassionate action. Helping others is a way to take the focus off ourselves and put it out into the world. When we are too inwardly focused, we can feel isolated and overwhelmed. We can take ourselves too seriously. By helping others, we can create new relationships, expand our world view, build new skills, and put our own challenges into perspective. Helping others can even enhance life expectancy! Studies have shown that the regular practice of helping others, of providing service, can lower blood pressure, decrease feelings of depression, lower stress and increase feelings of satisfaction.
Keep in mind that your garden be manageable. By that I mean, when planting seeds, choose the ones that you feel are most important to grow. Deciding to plant sunflowers, strawberries, squash, and fennel all at the same time may be too ambitious. You could easily feel overwhelmed and frustrated, and in turn, become critical of yourself. It is best to start small. Be gentle. Be observant.
Do you want to grow your reserves of patience? Start there. You could do so by slowing down. Take time to be present in the moment. Give yourself permission to take a deep breath and loosen your grip on the fast pace of the day. The practice of meditation, even for 2 – 3 minutes a day, can help you to slow down. Meditation has been shown to lower heart rate and to reduce stress. You could plant the seed of patience by learning about meditation, practicing it, finding an online group who is exploring the benefits of meditation together.
Same is true of physical health. Plant the seed of physical health and water it with daily stretches and walks, with healthy food, adequate rest, and a good dose of laughter.
Whatever it is you want to bear fruit, focus on it. Watch it grow and know that you nurtured it into being. Encourage others to do the same. Tending our gardens gives us the chance to practice self-care during COVID and beyond. Let’s get to work!
Author: Elisabeth Hargrove, MPH, LCSW
Elisabeth Hargrove, MPH, LCSW, is a clinical social worker with over 20 years of experience with a diverse client population in the Triangle area. Elisabeth’s passion is helping clients find their inner strength and resiliency. Her approach is warm, collaborative and non-judgmental. She uses short-term solution focused therapy, motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral techniques to address a range of concerns including anxiety, depression and anger management. Elisabeth has experience working with young children, teens and adults around family issues, behavioral concerns and trauma. She speaks Spanish and has many years of experience working with and advocating for the local Latino community.
Elisabeth believes that life is worth living and that each of us has inherent worth and dignity. She finds it a privilege to help clients uncover their own strength and optimism about life. Life is hard. It can help to have a safe place to bring feelings of stress however they manifest: anxiety, depression, disordered eating, insomnia or chronic health conditions. Elisabeth has experience in Behavioral Health Integration and is keenly aware of the relationship between mental and physical health.
Elisabeth has lived in the Triangle for 30 years, having graduated with a B.A. in English from Davidson College and an M.P.H. and an M.S.W. from UNC Chapel Hill. She loves to spend time with her family and friends, being outside in nature, listening to music and practicing meditation.