Brain Feeling Sluggish? Play in the Dirt.

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 go all consumer on us and order the t-shirt popular on Amazon, “Don’t Ask Me About College.” This may be a good idea — it could add some clarity to your life and you could more easily find “your people,” even joining one another under the banner of misery-loves-company. 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 class to class.

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 age 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 soothe your mid-semester 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, which appear to stimulate neurons and increase levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter thought to contribute to well-being and happiness), which ultimately decreases 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 imagine: reaping benefits from an exercise you have to perform only once every three weeks!

So from a series of these studies, we can suggest that turning soil with our hands just may give us access to microbes that can reduce stress and produce benefits that can last for several weeks. In addition, current research (also on mice) also suggests that getting your hands dirty may possibly increase cognitive function. Smarter and happier!

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.