Your Homework: Digging in the Dirt

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Yay, spring! Hey, juniors! How are you doing? I understand that this question from a college counselor can immediately prompt feelings of stress, strife, and perhaps a strong desire to run, scream, or just take a nap. You could even go all consumer on us and order the popular T-shirt from Amazon that says: “Don’t Ask Me About College.” This may be a good idea. It could add some clarity to your life and help you find like-minded friends who would commiserate with you. But although authentic and truthful communication is usually helpful, in this case, the proverbial elephant would still be right there with you, hanging on your backs as the entire herd of you go together from classroom to classroom.

Of course, I am here to make suggestions and give advice. My recommendation is this: go natural. I was fishing around for some ideas for you, and decided to go back, way  back, all the way to ancient times. Natural remedies have been around forever, way longer than your future college or university, so I chose the wisdom of ages as my hunting ground. Eureka! After a careful search, I found the answer right there in the backyard. Here’s the secret. If you want to address your end-of-year pains, go out and dig in the dirt!

This is for real. We know that in general, digging deeper reaps rewards, and scientists are now finding that there is a positive link between touching soil and human health. It seems that plowing through dirt with your hands may be a remedy for your stress. The answer lies with Mycobacterium vaccae, a form of bacteria found in soil that appears to stimulate neurons and increase levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter thought to contribute to well-being and happiness). It’s believed, therefore, that it can decrease anxiety.

A team of scientists at the Sage Colleges in Troy, New York recently revealed their test results, which were conducted on a group of mice. They fed one group M. vaccae on miniature peanut butter sandwiches, while the control group received none. The mice were then directed through a difficult maze. The results showed that the mice that ate the M. vaccae snack were able to move through the maze faster and with less stress than the control mice. It was a threefold positive result: a healthy pace, greater focus, and reduced tension!

The implications are obvious. Researchers already believe that the production of serotonin may contribute to successful learning. The mice may have experienced greater focus and lower anxiety. In addition, the benefits of the bacterium were noted to last up to three weeks.

Just think: reaping benefits from an exercise you have to perform only once every three weeks! In addition, other studies on mice suggest that getting your hands dirty could possibly increase cognitive function. The result of getting your hands dirty could mean working smarter and happier!

From a series of these studies, we can conclude that turning soil with our hands may give us access to microbes that can reduce stress and produce surprising benefits. So, feel free to go outdoors and play in the dirt. Even if this practice doesn’t produce dramatic results, the fruits of your labor will still produce a beautiful garden.

Maureen Delaney


As a Counselor in Educational Planning, Maureen Delaney considers the strengths and interests of students and helps them to achieve their academic and personal goals. Maureen takes time to establish authentic connections both to students planning for college and those advancing from undergraduate to graduate school. As an engaged partner, she identifies each individual’s strengths, cultivates...

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