The mood-boosting benefits hidden in our soils
And 7 ways to get your hands on it!
The thought of cold, wet mud doesn’t have quite the same appeal as sandy shores or craggy hillsides. But with research showing that just by touching soil you can change the chemicals being released in your brain and give your mood a boost, maybe it should.
The healing power of gardening and spending time in nature is well documented, with NHS England now offering “green prescriptions”. Recent research has now looked at soils specifically – and found how getting our hands in rich, healthy humus can help our bodies and minds.
People have been connected to soil for centuries – ancient myths and religious texts from around the world even include stories of humans being created from earth and clay. Today, we still share that connection: the soil filters and cleans our water, enables us to grow nutritious food and forms the building blocks of our homes. And now we know it can lift our spirits, too.
“Embracing the earth’s natural remedy might just be the refreshing and rejuvenating experience you need to boost your overall wellbeing.”
The science bit…
Serotonin, sometimes known as the “happy hormone”, is made and stored in our central nervous systems, enterochromaffin cells in the gut and platelets. The body regulates the levels of serotonin produced as it helps to control a wide variety of functions, from blood clotting and wound healing, to digestion, sleep and mood regulation. When we come into contact with soil, a bacterium called Mycobacterium vaccae is absorbed and it activates a small group of neurons containing serotonin.
This serotonin boost is thought to make us feel better by acting in a similar way to antidepressants. A non-live version of the bacteria has even been given to cancer patients, who went on to report feeling happier and more energetic.
So, as the nights draw in if you’re looking to nature to improve your emotional wellbeing, maybe it’s time to get back outside, and up close and personal with the magical earth beneath our feet.
Our top seven ways to get your natural boost:
1. Playing in nature
Whether it’s making mud pies or collecting sticks, allowing children to get muddy through play means they’re more likely to pick up these beneficial bacteria. For grown-ups, too, the tactile sensation of soil between your fingers can be a simple but effective way to reduce anxiety and boost your mood.
Standing or walking barefoot on the ground is a powerful way to mentally and physically connect with the earth. (Though at this time of year, you might want to pack a thermos flask and some warm socks for afterwards!)
3. Spa treatment
If a spa day is more your style, mud baths, masks and wraps can also give you this serotonin boost.
Autumn is an ideal time to do jobs like putting bulbs into the ground ready for next spring. Check out your local community gardens, schools or care homes to see if they need any volunteers to look after outdoor spaces.
5. Harvest time
From squashes and pumpkins, to parsnips and sprouts, there’s still plenty to come at this time of year. If you’re short on time or don’t have the space to grow your own, is there a nearby Pick Your Own (PYO) place that you could visit instead?
6. Washing muddy veg
If you’re able to get your hands on produce that’s fresh from the ground, you can pick up some of those beneficial bacteria as you prepare your food. As well as farm shops and farmers’ markets, you could also try asking neighbours or local allotment holders to see if they have any surplus they’d be happy to share.
7. Growing plants
If you don’t have a garden or green space nearby, growing indoor plants or cultivating herbs on a window sill offer the same benefits. Simply making direct contact with the soil can improve our mood, reduce anxiety, and enhance concentration.
How will you be connecting with the earth this autumn?