SELF CARE: For the Love of Plants
I'm interested in the ways we take it upon ourselves to manage our mental health. After talking to friends about how they heal when therapy just isn't in the budget, the idea for this post popped into my head. Paying out-of-pocket to speak to someone can be a hardship for those of us struggling to keep afloat.
From yoga to journaling, I've heard people advocate for their own, personal brand of self-care. After joining a Facebook group called Dreaming of Plants , I noticed the wonderful relationships people were building with their house plants. I've been trying to start my own little greenhouse, but the two plants I do have are barely holding on. Still, it's really something special to see others revive and keep their beloved plants alive . This got me thinking more about how beneficial plants are for our mental wellness.
Lots of literature points to the benefits of keeping a home filled with greenery, like this article and this one. However, I wanted to talk directly to people about their relationships to their plants and how it makes them feel. I created a good, ol' Google Form and posted it on Facebook. The response was really insightful. Keep reading to hear what Kenya, Kim, Jessie, Max, Katie, Emily, Lindsey, Sarah, Rachael and others have to say about their relationship to plants.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE HOUSE PLANTS?
Everyone is at different stages in their houseplant journey. I thought I would kick things off by asking everyone what their favorites plants are. Those of us in the novice category tend to be drawn to the popular succulent class of plant for their easy reputation. Others with a little more experience call their loved ones by name: Schefflera arboricola, anything tradescantia, anything monstera; a prayer plant, bird's nest fern, aloe plant, pothos, a small palm, catnip, flax seedlings, an air plant, and a zebra plant; rattlesnake plant, money tree, spider plant; Asparagus fern, philodendrons, every hoya.
Those articles I mentioned earlier do a good job explaining the science behind how plants impact our environment and their mood-altering effects - but I wanted to hear it straight from the source.
HOW DO PLANTS MAKE YOU FEEL?
Kenya, Portland OR: Calm and relaxed.
Anonymous: Pleasant. Rewarding. Fun. Regarding the purple plants - My mom, who passed away many years ago, originally planted them in our garden growing up; I have since carried them around to different cities, transplanting them wherever I move and keeping them in pots; it makes me feel like a part of my mom is with me wherever I go.
Kim, Portland OR: Curious. Lighter. Softer
Anonymous: When nothing else works to turn the chatter off in my mind, physically handling or simply eye-balling my beloved plants soothes me in a way that's hard to explain.
Max, Portland OR: Calm, positive, caring, excited, hopeful
Katie, Austin: Accomplished, calm, happy, inspired toward hobbies
Emily, Portland OR: It feels great to care for and maintain them. Keeping plants healthy and watching them grow and thrive is such a gratifying experience. Having splashes of green and color in my little apartment brings such contentment and purpose to my day.
Lyndsey, Portland OR: Inspired. So sad one day, a little water and some sun and they're back on top...which is sort of how I work! Lol.
Sarah, Portland OR: Caring for them makes me feel more connected to nature and I guess more connected to my own body somehow. I'm healing from childhood trauma that's resulted in a disconnection between self and body and caring for plants seems to be helping.
Rachael, San Marcos CA: Happy, homey, content, excited, mindful, calm, inspired
HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN CARING FOR PLANTS?
Kenya: As a kid, my grandparents and their neighbor grew things from food to flowers.
Anonymous: I became even more interested in herbs and food plants after visiting a family member who had an incredible garden. Just being in her garden felt pleasant, and seeing her kids interact with it was endearing.
Kim, Portland OR: Grew up with a love for plants and gardens , and learned through my mother and grandmother. We gardened for sustenance, but as a kid I didn't recognize that it was unusual to live in the suburbs and still depend on homegrown fruits and veggies. Now I find it freeing to embark on trying to keep the tradition going as an adult - and something my grandmother would be proud that I haven't left behind. I'm glad I don't have to rely on it for food, though.
Anonymous: I was having a panic attack on a first date right after we finished our meal. I quickly walked out of the restaurant and suggested we walk to the nearest store. It turned out to be a sustainable home improvement store, and had a beautiful section of baby succulents. As I delicately picked each baby up, I noted the rest of the world sort of faded out of my consciousness. I continued to gently fondle each and every plant until the anxiety passed like a memory.
Max: My mom studied horticultural therapy and I grew up in gardens. It was never really my thing until my twenties when I started bringing home succulents from the grocery store. They're easy to care for, so I don't have to stress about or mourn for them, and I love the way they look.
Rachael: My interest in succulents really inspired my interest in all types of house plants. I started making succulent art as a form of therapy to deal with postpartum anxiety and it has grown into a full time craft business for me!
HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT CARING FOR YOUR PLANTS?
Anonymous: I have a great book called the houseplant guide that has profiles and troubleshooting for many many types of houseplants
Max: Some knowledge I grew up with (from my mom), some I've research online but honestly most has been trial and error.
HOW DO PLANTS POSITIVELY IMPACT YOUR OUTLOOK?
Anonymous: It helps me stay somewhat grounded and to slow down a bit, it also makes my house a welcoming and beautiful place to spend time in
Emily: I have endured a significant amount of trauma, grief, and mental health struggles over the past few years. Through this I believe that, although it has been a major challenge, I've become increasingly more empathetic. I find myself taking on the pain and feelings of others more intensely than before. The plants relate to this because my empathy is what makes me care so deeply about these little babies. Maybe I am personifying them or directing my feelings toward them, but I have become a more nurturing person throughout my experiences and in my work caring for animals, as well as adopting plant babies bursting with life.
HOW DO PLANTS IMPACT YOUR MENTAL HEALTH?
Anonymous: The plants really give me a boost as a daily reminder to keep going and keep growing. I never really had much luck or patience with house plants before my very good friend passed unexpectedly this past fall. I sometimes think she gave me the gift of a green thumb in her passing. I've been somewhat compulsive in my desire to keep things alive and green and help things grow in a way to compensate for the loss of my friend.
Max: They give my day structure and responsibility even when I'm having a bad mental health time. I look forward to caring for them, and the rush of joy I get when bringing home a new plant is unparalleled.
Katie: It lessens the blow of failure. I am an artist, but also a perfectionist. This makes it pretty difficult to get anything on a canvas. If a plant starts to die, I get to learn how to solve the issue and it's really rewarding to see them get better and do well!
Emily: I recently brought an aloe plant back from the brink and it was such a deeply meaningful feeling to me. To those who may not understand how important plants are to myself and others, it may appear silly to become so attached to plants, but in reality they truly are a connection to our own empathy and nurturing.
Lyndsey: I can tell that I am not doing well mentally and emotionally when my plants are suffering from lack of care, and that goes the other way as well. When they look happy and cared for it usually means I'm taking good care of my personal physical, mental, and emotional needs.
WHAT DOES SELF-CARE LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
Kenya: Focusing on doing what I enjoy to the exclusion of what I "should" be doing.
Anonymous: Staying busy and proactive. Doing activities I find fulfilling. Learning new skills. Finding out whatever it is that makes you happy and pursuing it (as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else), which can be wildly different for everyone.
Jessie: Not pushing myself to the limit, whether that be emotionally, mentally, or physically. Recognizing when I'm close to my limit and trying to scale things back a bit. Doing things that bring me true joy, which might be binging a show on netflix, working out, gardening, going to see music, traveling, reading. Whatever I'm feeling at the time, if I'm able to make it work, I try to do it.
A Final Word
Many of us are looking for ways to relieve some of the pain, pressure and anxiety that comes from life and from our own struggles with mental wellness. As Mental Health Awareness month comes to an end, it is important we keep the conversation going about how mental healthcare differs along lines of race, gender and class.
It is also important to recognize the power of self-care, while understanding how it can still fail you when the wound is very deep.
Self-care works, but you need to employ it wisely. Wellness website, Redefine Enough created a FREE SELF CARE PLAN you can download to outline when, how, and why to practice it. "Self care doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. Learning your triggers (the things that set off unwanted emotions/feelings) and warning signs (the messages that your body sends to alert you that it needs rest) are really effective in developing a strong self care plan".
If you are interested in getting your hands in some potting soil, but you aren't sure where to start, listen to these words of wisdom from Kenya, "Caring for plants feels natural and not like an exceptional act. The relationship is quiet, patient, kind and mutually beneficial".