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The Impact Houseplants Have on Your Mental Health

When you think of the color green, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it the grass outside? That cute new shirt you bought for spring? Money? Or maybe it's the spinach sitting in your fridge that you swore you would eat this week? When I think of green, I think of plants, the things that provide us with oxygen, bring life to a sterile space, purify our air, and so much more! I am by no means an expert on the ins and outs of house plants and all they require but I like to tell myself that I am close. Initially, I began to collect small plants solely for the purpose of accessorizing my new apartment. However, after setting aside time to care for them I found myself building a relationship with these tiny plants. They were my babies and they needed me to care for them. I didn't have any pets at the time, and I lived alone so I found myself talking – to the plants. Yes, I was talking to my plants, and I know they enjoyed hearing about the incredibly interesting phone calls I had on my way home from work, and my best renditions of Easy On Me by Adel. Research shows the living space of modern people has moved from outdoors to indoors - more than 85% of a person’s daily life is spent indoors. While we are indoors, we most often find ourselves binge-watching some type of show or getting lost scrolling through hours of TikToks and Instagram reels. Little do we know that these activities can possibly be adding to our stress and anxiety levels. The Journal of Physiological Anthropology conducted a study to examine psychological and physiological benefits of interacting with indoor plants. They asked half of their participants to complete a computer task, and the other half to complete a transplanting activity with a houseplant. The results from the research-study showed that the subjects felt more comfortable, soothed, and natural after the plant-related task than they did after the computer task. The data also concluded that the sympathetic nervous system (the system that controls our stress response) increased its activity over time during the computer task but decreased at the end of the plant-related task. They also discovered that the blood pressure of those subjects was considerably lower after the plant-related task. In short, plants are better than computers and you can't fight science. Here are five ways houseplants enhance your mental and emotional health:
  • Plants can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. A 2007 study found a bacterium in plant soil called Mycobacterium vaccae that triggers the release of serotonin, which lifts mood and reduces anxiety. Therefore, interaction with indoor or outdoor plants can alleviate symptoms of depression.
  • Indoor plants can make you more productive and boost your creativity. Many research studies related to plants have shown an increase in creativity levels of subjects both in school and in the workplace. Results from these studies acknowledge the connection between environment and the overall wellbeing. You may find similar benefits of reduced stress levels, being able to think clearly and ignite creativity from plants at home as well.
  • Boost air quality inside the house. Not only do plants benefit your mental health, but they also improve your space overall. NASA studies have shown that plants improve air quality. For example, plants can add humidity to the air, which helps during dry winter months. Some types of plants remove airborne toxins that can improve your sleep and energy level.
  • Houseplants give you a taste of nature. The physical aspect of taking care of houseplants reminds us of our connection to nature. Active interactions with houseplants such as working with soil, pruning, touching, and smelling have shown to have the same relaxing and stress-reducing effects as spending time in a forest. And let's face it, they just look great in every room!
  • Tending to plants models self-care. As many struggle with their mental health right now, it’s a comfort to know that something as simple as watering your plants a few times a week and giving them plant food as needed can uplift your mood.

Plant Parenthood 101

Start small! Some houseplants can be very tedious and require a lot of maintenance that could potentially add more stress to your life. It’s important to do some research before investing in a plant. Succulents are a great place to start if you have yet to master the art of a green thumb. They are generally inexpensive, and they look great in any space. Succulents require little to no maintenance, just basic watering, and LOTS of sunlight. Succulents are also amazing because they can cultivate themselves, meaning that they can grow an entirely new plant from one of their leaves if one may fall off. Some other houseplants that are low maintenance include:
  • Snake Plants clear the air of toxins that can impact your sleep and mood.
  • Ferns are great for adding humidity to the air.
  • Aloe Vera is great for healing wounds and dry skin.
  • Cacti can instill calmness and relaxation.
  • Lavender helps relieve stress and anxiety while adding a little color to the room.
There is no wrong place to start on your journey to plant parenthood. Plants can teach us how to be mindful and they can show us that nourishing our bodies leads to a life of flourishing in the space around us. They can act as a listening ear in a space that once felt so dark and alone. So grab yourself a pot and begin your journey to a better, more mindful life, full of oxygenated air and creativity!
  • By Mikaela Smith, Counseling Intern