Alleviating Stress Through Plant Therapy


3 ways to get your hands dirty; it may just provide the nourishment you need right now!

by Anna Smith, MSW, LCSW-A, SouthLight Opioid Treatment Program Counselor

This past year has been collectively hard on all of us. Many spent the majority of their time at home, often left isolated from friends, family, and coworkers. As we enter Spring and the warmer months begin to offer more opportunities to be outside, it’s a perfect time to start getting your hands dirty.  

Horticultural therapy has been around in some form since ancient times. Gardens were found to be useful to improve moods and have a calming effect on those who spent time there. Current research identifies gardening activities and time spent in nature to reduce symptoms of anxiety, alleviate stress, and decrease symptoms of depression.  Horticultural therapy has been shown to improve cognition, attention, self-esteem, interpersonal relationships, and overall social behavior. 

Horticultural therapy has been shown to improve cognition, attention, self-esteem, interpersonal relationships, and overall social behavior. 

Here are a few ideas for individuals, couples, families, or groups to experience what plants and nature can teach us about ourselves. 

1. Take a wildflower hike 

Spring represents a time of renewal and growth.  Flowering trees form buds, daffodils and other bulbs emerge from the soil, and browns change to different shades of green.  This is the perfect time of year to take a weekend wildflower hike.  Try to find as many Spring ephemerals as you can along your way.  The word ephemeral means ‘transitory’ or ‘quickly fading’. Ephemerals are wildflowers that bloom briefly, reminding us of the changing, fleeting nature of life.  Some examples of ephemerals to look out for include Trout Lily, Bloodroot, Spring Beauty, and the many species of Trillium that are native to North Carolina. Click here for more details:  Native Spring Ephemerals 

After the hike consider creating art by drawing or painting the flowers you found along your way.   

2. Plant a pollinator garden 

Without pollinating insects like bees and butterflies, we wouldn’t have a food supply. There is a symbiotic relationship between the plants and the insects which allows both to survive.  Monarch butterfly caterpillars, for example, eat only milkweed plants which are rapidly disappearing due to land development.  You can help provide habitats for these helpers, and enjoy seeing them, by choosing pollinator-friendly plants for your gardens. Pollinator gardens can even be started in containers and grown on porches or decks.  You can adapt your garden to suit the space and budget available.  All you will need are plants, soil, and a container or outdoor space.   

Pollinator-friendly plants: Aster, Black-eyed Susan, Blazing Star, Coneflower, Daisy, Goldenrod, Milkweed, Sunflower, and Swamp Rose.  Visit a local greenhouse, nursery, or big-box store to purchase these plants.   

3. Buy a houseplant 

If the thought of tending a garden sounds a bit intimidating, why not start with a houseplant?  Houseplants remove toxins from the air, boost mood, and create visual appeal in small or large spaces.  Having a plant in your home or office brightens the space and improves concentration and productivity.  Houseplants can enhance any indoor space and in return can enhance well-being.   

Houseplants remove toxins from the air, boost mood, and create visual appeal in small or large spaces.

Choose a plant that best suits the amount of light and space available.  Start with a plant that won’t require too much maintenance.  Pothos (epipremnum aureum) are perfect starter plants and come in a number of varieties such as Marble Queen, Golden, Silver Satin, and Neon. Pothos are popular because they are vining plants that grow quickly and do not require much care.   

Consider how much we have in common with plants.  We all need nourishment, room to grow, time, and the right amount of care to live a full life.  The life cycle of plants is a reminder of our own life cycle, and shines light on the importance of being present in our lives.  

Take some time to enjoy your surroundings this Spring and possibly pick up a new hobby in horticulture along the way.   

About Anna:

Anna Smith is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Associate and Counselor for the Opioid Treatment Program at SouthLight Healthcare.  Anna grew up on a farm in Southern Virginia and is a houseplant enthusiast. Her favorite plant species include Hoya, Philodendron, and Rhipsalis.   

About SouthLight:

Founded in 1970, SouthLight Healthcare is one of the area’s largest nonprofit providers of substance use treatment and mental health services. SouthLight partners with individuals and communities to provide innovative treatment solutions delivered with compassion and dignity. With outpatient and community-based programs, SouthLight provides prevention, education, and treatment services in the Triangle and beyond. Call 919-787-6131 for help or more information.