Growing better mental health


By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News 

Julian Holland

Julian finds gardening relaxing

Julian Holland struggled to feel comfortable in social settings and had a debilitating lack of self-confidence.

For a long time he was reluctant to step outside his front door and took little care over the state of his home or appearance.

He suffered a breakdown last year and was hospitalised for three weeks.

Today however he is feeling much better and he puts that down to his involvement in a lottery funded special gardening project – Twigs (Therapeutic Gardening Work in Swindon) – that gives his life a new purpose.

Digging way out of depression

“There’s more to this project than digging – there’s a great community spirit here; everyone is treated as a person not as an illness,” he said.

“Before I came to Twigs I struggled to motivate myself even to leave the house in the mornings, but now I get real pleasure from tasks like the willow weaving, which really helps with my depression.

You have your doctor for your mental health support and she is great and I come to Twigs for a sense of achievement
Julian Holland

“I have suffered from depression for about 10 years off and on, I get good days and bad days.

“I basically could not function before and would wake up with night sweats panic attacks etc.

“I did not want to go out, and I just could not be bothered to do anything.”

Caring network

Julian, 45, from Swindon, said he had had fantastic support from his GP who prescribed him anti-depressants – but the gardening had given him a vital extra boost.

“You have your doctor for your mental health support and she is great and I come to Twigs for a sense of achievement,” he said.

“I go twice a week and do varied work from woodworking to potting up, cutting grass, working on the flowerbeds, weeding, willow weaving, and working on the allotments.

“Everyone using Twigs is in the same boat and they are all extremely supportive.

Julian Holland

Julian willow weaving

“I like working outside, I can’t do an office job. Here there is no pressure on you to do one particular thing, you just pick what you want to do.

“I feel that I am doing something useful such as re-potting a whole flower bed.”

Richard Allwood, horticultural therapist at the gardening charity Thrive, said gardening therapy had been used to help with a variety of conditions.

“We have had people come to us with strokes, those who have depression and car crashes,” he said.

Gardening therapy

Dr Cosmo Hallstrom, a psychiatrist in Chelsea and member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said gardening provides distraction therapy, vital in helping deal with depression.

“If I was seeing you in cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) I might say, ‘Let’s look at three things you enjoy doing,’ and let’s say you say one of them is gardening, I would then say, ‘OK let’s do one hour’s gardening,’ he said.

“CBT is a modern form of psychological therapy dealing with the here and now as opposed to your past experiences looking at thinking and behaviour and can include all manner of techniques.

“It is a treatment of proven benefit.

“When you get depressed you stop doing things and get isolated which makes you more depressed. The theory is that if you do pleasurable things you will in time get better

“Gardening is a pleasurable activity and it focuses you away from thinking about your health problems.

“Why gardening and not running? Well I think at first it is a bit much doing things that are too physical. It is important to find something you enjoy.”

What is an Empath?


Put simply, an Empath is a person who absorbs other people’s emotions and experiences these emotions as if they were their own.

Empathic people are highly sensitive to the emotional climates around them and often take on the psychological baggage of other people. This often leads to chronic mental and physical sicknesses.

12 Signs You’re an Empath

Common signs of being an empath include:

  • The tendency to soak up other’s emotions and even physical sensations, like a sponge
  • Strong intuitive abilities or claircognizance
  • Chaotic or fluctuating emotions
  • Moodiness
  • Intense sensitivity
  • Highly creative
  • Inability to watch violence
  • Tendency towards anxiety and addiction
  • Tendency to attract wounded people
  • Gentle and caring nature
  • Chronic fatigue + digestive issues
  • Drawn to healing professions

How many of these signs can you identify within this list?

How to Become a Healed and Empowered Empath

The key to becoming a healed and empowered Empath lies in working to developing an individuated identity, clear boundaries, and non-attachment/resistance to emotions. The first step in becoming a matured Empath is to learn how to ground yourself in your body firmly.

Examples of practices that all Empaths will find beneficial include:

  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Qigong
  • Breathing practices
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Body awareness

Any technique that can help you get out of your mind and into experiencing the present moment with non-judgment and non-resistance will help you as an Empath.

Why You Are a Gift to This World

In a world full of fear, greed, cruelty, egotism, and immense pain, your sensitivity is an immense blessing.

Your sensitivity is a gift this world desperately needs.

The ability to care deeply for others is something our world lacks to a severe degree. Your gift not only closes the gap between people, but it also opens the door to loving-kindness and other extrasensory abilities such as intuition.

Can you imagine what the world would be like if we were all sensitive, caring, and receptive to each other? We would be living in paradise.

So honor this experience of being an Empath for the great lessons and opportunities it presents you with.


Self-Esteem Journal

Self-Esteem Journal template - changing thought patterns

Positive journaling has been found to help improve feelings of well-being and self-esteem. With this self-esteem worksheet, record three daily statements related to your successes, good qualities, and positive experiences. This worksheet is great for those who have difficulty generating ideas for positive experiences to journal about. We’ve designed this worksheet to be as straight-forward and simple as possible, while maintaining the qualities that are important for improving self-esteem. Some examples of prompts within this handout are:

“I felt proud when…”
“Today I accomplished…”
“Something I did for someone…”


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