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Four Ways Houseplants Improve Our Mental Health

May is mental health awareness month, and we’ve decided to put our spin on the topic

and talk about the connection between plants and mental health. But we’re not just jumping on the bandwagon just for the sake of it, and we don’t want to talk in absolutes.

We really believe that being surrounded by houseplants improves mental health and we see numerous versions of this statement in all the plant communities we’re part of.

Before we dive deeper into the topic, here is our gentle disclaimer. This is a serious topic that is best navigated with the help of a mental health professional. If you need to, please seek professional help. If you don’t know where to start, we’ve added a few useful resources at the end of this post.

Four Ways Houseplants Improve Our Mental Health

Let’s take a deeper look at the benefits of being surrounded by plants, and how we can take full advantage of this in our daily lives.

1. Plants lower our anxiety.

In 2011, researchers from Uppsala University (Sweden) and Norwegian University of Life Sciences found that the simple presence of plants in our environment reduces stress and fatigue and increases feelings of happiness. Working with plants also helps decrease our cortisol levels and makes us feel restored and positive.

Put it into practice: Is there a spot in your house that is more conducive to relaxation? It can be your breakfast nook, a cushy armchair in your reading corner, or even a window perch. Once you’ve identified this spot, spruce it up with some plants.

If it’s a darker spot that gets indirect light, the best plants for it are sansevieria, pothos, zamioculcas zamiifolia or spider plants. If it’s a sunny spot that you relax in, then you can bring in some succulents, croton or schefflera.

2. Plants help us focus better.

Keeping houseplants where we work leads to a greater ability to focus and maintain our attention, according to a study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology Dr. Ruth K.Raanaas and her team found that indoor plants in an office can prevent fatigue during work that requires attention and concentration.

Put it into practice: Bring houseplants into your home office or in places where you perform strenuous intellectual work. If you have enough space for a green wall, this would be the best place in your home to install one. And if that sounds too complicated, a simple tower-shelf filled with houseplants might just do the trick.

3. Plants help us fight stress.

Tending to plants is almost as contemplative as meditation. Ask anyone who has ever started repotting a plant, only to find themselves two hours later still elbow-deep in potting soil. And you know what that means? When we’re engaging with plants in real life, we’re not stuck in front of a screen, and we’re definitely not doom-scrolling. Research proved this one too, by having a group of people follow a computer-related task with a houseplant repotting session. They found that plants relieve physiological stress and its negative psychological symptoms. It only took 15 minutes for the study participants to feel more comfortable and more soothed after the transplanting task than after the computer task.

Put it into practice: Clear some room in your schedule to do some plant maintenance. If you only have five minutes, you can spend this time just gently rotating your plants away from the light - this promotes even growth on all sides of the plant.

If you have half an hour, you can start wiping down leaves with a wet cloth, prune dead leaves and maybe even play “musical chairs” with the cache pots to see which one fits better.

Should you be so lucky to have a whole afternoon off, especially in the spring and summer, then a repotting session is in the cards for you. There are so many ways to do plant care, and we guarantee that once you start it, time flies and you’ll feel restored afterward.

4. Plants boost our creativity.

The extent of our creativity can be influenced by how much our external environment incorporates natural elements. A 2015 study found that biophilic design in the office can help spark our creative thinking. More specifically, the study found that people working in environments that incorporated natural elements, such as daylight and living plants, reported levels of creativity that were 15 percent higher than the levels reported by those who work in environments devoid of any signs of nature.

Put it into practice: Surround yourself with plants in your work space, whether you’re working from home or from an office. And while you’re at it, figure out a way to place the houseplants into your line of vision. So even if you’re stuck in front of a screen for eight hours a day, you can still look up and enjoy the sight of green leaves.

For an extra boost, bring in plants that engage your other senses as well. For example, to engage your sense of smell, you can bring in pots of jasmine, lavender, hibiscus, gardenia or eucalyptus. Even though these are traditionally outdoor plants, they do survive in pots indoors.

For an extensive review of the existing scientific literature on the physical and psychological benefits of being surrounded by plants, have a look at the metastudy collected and analyzed by researchers Melinda Knuth and Charles Hall at Texas A&M University and published in the Journal of Environmental Horticulture.

Extra mental health resources:

  • NAMI Helpline – a free, US-based resource to access experienced peer-support guidance and advice

  • CheckPoint – a country-specific directory, so you can easily find local resources.

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