plants helping with stress

Feeling Stressed or Trapped Indoors? Try Nurturing Some Plants

Published on October 19, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Stay-at-home restrictions have come to define most people’s stories for 2020. COVID-19 has created numerous global health crises, not the least of which impacts underlying mental health conditions. Without an end in sight to social distancing, taking care of plants can provide respite for mounting mental health concerns as well as many other benefits. 

First responders now face the prospect of working extended shifts, while often neglecting their own personal needs of social interaction and human connection. Many individuals who live alone face increased exposure to the likelihood of overusing alcohol and/or substances. While pets offer a semblance of the connection we need as living creatures, nurturing plants can assist those who are not able to or choose not to own pets.

Exercising your green thumb muscles provides an opportunity to focus on a long-term project with the potential to immediately improve one’s living situation. Gardening — whether it involves numerous plants or a single succulent — helps connect people to their living situation. Without this connection to living organisms, the place we live can begin to feel like painted walls and nothing more. Even the smallest seed of a plant can help us to grow alongside our leafy neighbors.


Obstacles to Maintaining Plants

Not all environments are equally hospitable to inhabiting flora. Without proper sunlight, humidity, and temperature, not all plants will flourish in a given living space. Thankfully, not every plant is in need of an arboretum or even outdoor soil plots. Many indoor plants actually grow stronger when brought inside a common living space. Additionally, first responders in recovery might feel that their work schedules don’t allow for them to take care of any sort of life form — even a cactus.

Fortunately, there are many low-maintenance plants that can benefit first responders in recovery. For example, aloe vera, snake plants, and dumb cane are all examples of greenery in need of very little effort to thrive. Taking care of these plants allows first responders in recovery to focus on watering and providing sufficient light, rather than harboring anxiety from the pressures of work and/or addiction. While plant life does not even begin to substitute for the empathy we need to exchange with friends and family, they can at the very least transform a living or bedroom into a more relaxed space.


Mental Health Benefits

The human mind is hardwired to respond to different color stimuli. According to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, two primary colors— blue and red — can help kick-start a person’s heart rate and other adrenaline responses, while green relaxes the mind. Many believe the calming nature of green imagery stems from the peaceful scenery and elements of forest biomes. 

By filling one’s living space with this relaxing primary color, the human brain subconsciously sends signals which calm the body. Over time, this reduction in blood pressure and breathing can have powerful health benefits. The presence of plants in a home or office has also been proven to increase one’s productivity. As appealing as minimalism might be to some home decorators, blank walls don’t necessarily teem with inspiration. Hanging plants have actually been found to stimulate brain activity. By filling one’s line of sight with snippets of nature, first responders dealing with stress and negative thoughts might be able to alleviate some of life’s challenges. 


Improved Living Environment

For firefighters and anyone battling poor air quality, home plants act as tiny air filters. Through photosynthesis, plants take carbon dioxide and yield breathable oxygen as a by-product. Clean air can have a profound impact on an individual’s cognitive functions and emotional well-being. The last thing a first responder needs when returning home from a 24-hour shift in a smoke-filled forest fire is a living room filled with similarly poor air quality. 

Studies have also found the positive influence that plants can have on an individual’s immune system. In addition to improving one’s quality of sleep, plants also effuse the pheromones responsible for boosting immunity to illness, which is a huge bonus for the health of anyone navigating the stress of work and/or addiction — not to mention a global pandemic.


A Sense of Care

After a few weeks of nurturing a house plant, individuals may begin feeling a swell of pride. As most first responders know, the ability to foster life — even for a little tuft of shrubbery — can fill us with a sense of purpose and accomplishment. The ability to tangibly measure growth and effort through the color and size of a plant is also a fitting way to gauge one’s recovery. Although one day of sobriety may feel insignificant at first, a year of sobriety is merely a collection of these individual days. Like a growing plant, addiction recovery calls for the support of a healthy environment. No single step towards assisting in this recovery guarantees longevity, but collective efforts do allow for growth and development. 


COVID-19 presents unprecedented health issues for individuals coping with addiction. Now more than ever, it is important to prioritize mental health concerns and take steps to lead a life of mindful and healthy practices to support our sobriety. Recovery takes a full-fledged, all-encompassing dedication to fighting addiction. For some, this may look like taking care of plants and animals — for others, it might center more around fitness or other pursuits. In times when mental health may take second place to pandemic, financial, and even wildfire concerns, it can be easy to overlook the ever-present influence of alcohol and/or substance use disorder. It’s a lot for any one person to shoulder. First Responder Wellness is here to assist you on your path to recovery. Call us today at (888) 743-0490.