Are you stressed?

Does that seem like a stupid question, in this new COVID-19 world? Isn’t everyone, all around the world stressed as we sit apparently helplessly, being hammered by constant media reports of COVID-19, new variants, and protests?

It’s like the bushfire crisis on steroids, and the whole world is on fire at the same time.

But it isn’t.

The pandemic is serious, without a doubt. Millions of people around the world have died, including thousands in Australia. But without downplaying the seriousness of what’s happening, it’s vital to keep things in perspective.

In times of crisis talking about gardening can seem trivial. But could it be possible that fruit trees can really reduce your stress levels?

Staying grounded…the opposite of being stressed

On social media, it’s hard to avoid conspiracy theories and strongly opinionated pro- and anti-vax sentiments. Emotions are heightened and judgments are quick and fierce.

We’re not giving any airtime to particular theories or positions, which is not to be naive. We just don’t feel that weighing in or speculating adds to people’s sense of well-being.

It’s more important than ever to find ways to manage stress levels and be able to keep enjoying life. It probably won’t surprise you to find out that we think fruit trees are a key stress-reducing tool!

How fruit trees reduce stress: Katie and a group of community gardeners inspecting an apricot tree. Photo credit: Nicole Porter
Katie and a group of community gardeners calmly appreciating a fruit tree. Photo credit: Nicole Porter

Finding positive solutions to stress in a pandemic

Many support groups, online classes, and social media activities sprang up in the pandemic to help keep everyone socially connected as we became more isolated. Even if you’re not locked down they’re a great way to safely stay connected to other people.

Our personal strategy for helping to reduce stress during the pandemic has been working with gardeners to help them become self-sufficient for fruit-growing.

Because we run an online business and have members all over Australia connecting online is pretty familiar territory for us.

In fact, we use Zoom meetings with the lovely gardeners inside our Grow Great Fruit community for monthly Q&A sessions. We love that technology can let us go face-to-face with our members no matter where they’re gardening.

And we’re not alone. In many ways, the pandemic has actually helped people to get more connected, more often. Here are some examples just from our family:

  • The family elders learned how to use Zoom, and we have regular weekly face-to-face family catch-ups;
  • What used to be an irregular dinner engagement with a group of friends has become a regular weekly online card game;
  • Siblings and cousins scattered across three continents have weekly Zoom catch-ups.

These ongoing connections are gifts, but online connection definitely has its limitations.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to value the importance of connecting in real life.

Yet another zoom meeting…

Staying connected in real life

Health workers, teachers, emergency workers, farmers market organisers, and everyone else on the frontline emerged as heroes of the pandemic. They’ve kept us supplied with basic needs, often to the detriment of their own stress levels.

Small-scale farmers and their produce have also been in hot demand. The value of local, small-scale, food systems became starkly obvious when supermarket shelves were laid bare.

Small-scale farmers and farmers’ markets found clever ways to pivot during the pandemic, like so many small businesses. They bent over backward to find creative ways to stay in business, keep staff employed, and keep feeding people every single week.

But one of the key (and maybe a bit surprising) services that farmers markets have provided is a source of human contact. While it’s always great to have face-to-face contact with the person who grows your food, if you haven’t spoken to anyone else for a while, it can be a lifeline.

Castlemaine Farmers Market Weekly operating safely during the COVID-19 pandemic (photo credit: Linnet Good)
Castlemaine Farmers Market Weekly operating safely during the COVID-19 pandemic (photo credit: Linnet Good)

Nature connection as a stress reliever

Another gift from the pandemic is that (at least in the early days) global emissions plummeted. Unfortunately, it was short-lived. But it has at least shown governments around the world what’s achievable.

At the very least will provide some data about how quickly emissions can be lowered when we actually do what it takes.

A third pandemic gift is that people have flocked towards ‘homesteading’ skills and activities.

Gardening, growing your own food, preserving, cooking at home, and enjoying simple pleasures have all trended. It was already happening, but it’s as if everyone has suddenly started to take seriously the very real benefits of having control over at least part of your own food supply!

Quite apart from the practicalities of growing your own food, spending time in the garden makes a lot of sense in stressful times.

How spending time with your fruit trees can reduce stress

A lot of people are drawn to gardening intuitively. You just know that hanging out in your garden with your fruit trees makes you feel less stressed, even if you’re not sure exactly why. But there’s actually good science to back this feeling up.

Studies have shown that spending even two hours a week in nature substantially increases health and psychological wellbeing. This can be as simple as walking in the park or being in the bush.

And the benefits for gardeners (and farmers) are even greater. Actually working with the soil is known to have an even stronger positive effect on health.

Gardeners and farmers alike have a feeling for the soil and know firsthand the restorative experience of working with it.

Joseph R. Heckman, Soils and Human Health

The pandemic might not have affected you personally (yet), but it’s not over. And regardless of what happens with the pandemic, there’s always going to be another crisis.

The world is a stressful place, and because we spend so much time on screens it’s in our face most of the time.

So put down your phone, switch off the TV, and head into the garden. Use those crucial two hours a week of stress-relieving nature-time in caring for your fruit trees and getting your hands dirty.

Your stress levels will thank you.

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