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South Carolina woman finds her peace amid 300 plants. Neurology suggests she's onto something

The coronavirus pandemic has made stress levels higher than before. Doctors recommend having a coping skill to help with mental health.

IRMO, S.C. — As the pandemic continues to impact the world, mental health has become an internal battle for many people. Doctors recommend everyone have a coping mechanism to deal with the stressors in their lives.

Renee Downs, a resident in Irmo, says her coping mechanism is spending time in her garden.

"It’s vital, it’s very important," Downs said. "I don't think I miss a day. Most of the time I don’t. I have to do something and it just balances me out."

Downs has been living in Irmo for nearly 8 years. She said she gardens every morning and evening and has planted more than 300 plants. 

"They call me Crazy Flower Lady," Downs said. "If you come out in the morning, I’m outside. If you want to reach me, I’m outside. I’m always outside," she said. "It’s something I would hear the kids say, ‘That lady is outside again planting flowers' or doing this and, many times, even the kids would want to come out and just look at the flowers."

Downs said her gardening is an obsession, but it's very therapeutic and her way of coping with stress. 

"On the days that I’m not gardening, well, I shouldn't say that. I’m always gardening," Downs said. "Monday, Wednesday, Friday, I am walking through the neighborhood, power-walking through the neighborhood and that helps a lot, too." 

"Sometimes I will be out here so late my husband would send our dog outside to come get me in," she added. "I look up and see that the sun's gone."

She told News19 that on days she is not in her garden, she de-stresses by reading, cleaning the house, and watching football with her husband. 

Dr. Kimberly Kruse, a neuropsychologist at Prisma Health in Richland County, said everyone handles stress differently. 

"Just because a friend or someone else is engaging in a certain coping mechanism or hobby, it certainly does not mean that you would like that one," Dr. Kruse said.

Dr. Kruse said the ongoing pandemic increased the mental health crisis. She said there are two different types of stress someone could face.

"Dealing with stressors of this type can be challenging because they're long-term and persisting, as opposed to a stressor that would be acute or short term, which tends to have a beginning and an end," Dr. Kruse said. "When you're dealing with persisting stress, it's happening over a long period of time and the brain does not get the message that it can return to normal functioning. 

Dr. Kruse said that, as a result, we tend to see people in "a state of hyperarousal or increased alertness" all as they attempt to navigate their daily routines, roles, and responsibilities.

Dr. Kruse said continuous stress can lead to the loss of memory, high blood pressure, anxiety, and other health problems.  

"When people have, have a lot of things going on, or when you tend to be focused on multiple stressors at the same time, you have less effort and ability placed on encoding information or receiving information from your environment," Dr. Kruse said. "Each individual knows their own baseline of what they know they can tolerate and what they are tolerating on a daily basis." 

As such, she said that anytime you see a change or departure from your typical abilities or skills, it may be time to reevaluate your lifestyle and remove any stressors that you have control over.

RELATED: National Suicide Prevention Month: Resources Available in SC

Downs said she thinks everyone needs to have their own coping mechanism for better mental health. 

"You should fit time in for yourself, for relaxation," Downs said. "Anything that brings you joy, and this is what brings me joy. So with all the craziness going on in the world, this is my retreat, this is where I come to."