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Illustration by Brittany England

As modern accessories go, houseplants are not only beloved because of the way they can spruce up a room but also for the way they benefit our mental health. They can brighten our spaces, freshen the air, and provide a mirror into how we’re doing on the inside. In fact, they’re a great reminder of when, and how, to take care of ourselves.

When the daily grind has us often feeling cut off from the natural world, houseplants can help fill the void. We spoke to folks in different plant communities about the personal wellness benefits they’ve reaped from plant parenting.

“There’s something really zen about potting plants or gardening in general. Forces you to be present in the moment and not being anxious about five million other things.” — Mary Marcella

Houseplant ownership doesn’t just beautify your space, tending to them can have an immensely calming effect as you get lost in the moments of providing them care. This is an example of mindfulness, a very helpful practice for coping with stress and anxiety.

A study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found that participants who took part in a planting task felt calmer, more comfortable, and more relaxed than those who completed a tech-related task.

“When I get in a funk, I use the plants to help me out of it. I’ll check on them if there’s any dead leaves, dryness, need of watering, and move around to get some sun, etc. This little bit of caring for something else (and who isn’t talking back to me) helps me clear my head and restart my day.” — Rachel Able

Different plants have different needs, and caring for them means learning their little peculiarities. This means that you may find yourself puttering around, fixating on how to give them light so they grow evenly (as you should do with Pilea Peperomioides), misting them (as you may do with some palms), and dusting their leaves.

“I could talk to them. Tell them everything that was going through my crazy brain. They were great listeners. They never sounded judgy, they never tried to tell me what I was feeling wasn’t real, they never pushed me beyond where I was comfortable being pushed.” — Kriss Judd

Although we know to reach out to our friends and family when times are tough, sometimes it’s nice to have a companion that isn’t expecting a conversation or a give-and-take interaction. In fact, there have been reports of doctors “prescribing” houseplants and participation in communal gardens to improve individual well-being.

“They ground me, the process of watering them, taking care of them, and smelling the wet dirt. Every Time! Instantly grounded.” — Sheri Deering

Modern life can be a lot of stress, emotional chaos, and rushing here and there. Although gardening has been shown to restore mood, additional studies have also shown that even tiny doses of nature in our everyday lives can have big benefits for our happiness and well-being.

Taking care of your plant babies is a great way to focus on the little things to ground yourself. Such small actions can provide big relief from the hectic energy of the daily grind.

“One thing I do is make sure there are pots of flowers on my front step because coming home to a pop of living color makes me feel happy to be home.” — Victoria Fedden

Just as we decorate our spaces with comforting touches like family photos and knickknacks, plants play a similar role in making our homes more beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. This is an incredibly welcome and comforting reality of plant ownership that can help your space feel more joyful. Even science confirms a pop of color from houseplants can evoke various positive effects on your mood.

“When my oldest went off to college, I bought myself a new plant. Within 6 months, I had 75. When they die I feel quite sad, tell them I’m sorry I couldn’t save them and thank them for the joy they brought my family.” — Teresa Bond

Not all plants survive, this can be for a variety of reasons. Maybe it was human error, or maybe they just didn’t have the right conditions to thrive. Having houseplants can teach us to let go, and realize that sometimes things just don’t pull together for success as nicely as we wish they would. And that’s okay.

“Home isn’t home without life bursting at every seam. Every plant tells a story, talks to other plants, has a life cycle, experiences hardship, and learns to pull through with support of others, like me.” — Rachel Hunsell

When you’re stuck in the ebb and flow of life, it can be really hard to keep perspective on life’s seasons, and how they’re not all the same. Sometimes keeping plants can help you appreciate how our lives and internal states can mimic nature: sometimes struggling, not always blooming, but always valid. With the cycles of life on display, it’s easier to trap into the wisdom of how you view life.

“When people come over to my house, they almost always comment on my plants. I’m a super awkward conversationalist with people I’m not yet close to, so it’s really helpful to have the plants to chitchat about to get us going.” — Kristen Mae

Although we are more connected than ever with the internet and social media, for some of us, truly connecting in person can be a challenge. One thing about plant people is that they absolutely love finding one of their own in the wild, and plants can be a simple default conversation starter that feels safe and secure.

“I could never keep house plants alive. When I finally confronted some past trauma and really dealt with some mental health issues, suddenly I could keep a dozen house plants alive and thriving!” — Cameron Chapman

We’re all a part of nature, and although many of us live in cities and can feel cut off from it, plants show us just how connected we all are. Consider it coincidental or strangely but often in houseplant-loving groups (such as Houseplant Hobbyist on Facebook), plant people tend to notice how their plants mimic their internal nature.

“Having to take care of [them] and seeing genuine results from your own actions is really healthy… Real responsibilities (but just a lot less high stakes) but it also shows real results to my actions, which I think is the biggest benefit.” — Kate Wasacz

If you’re feeling down, it can sometimes feel like there are many forces outside of your control wreaking havoc on your life. Taking care of plants can provide us with some perspective that we do have some control, and that our actions matter.

“It sounds crazy, but a lot of times watching a plant wilt because I maybe forgot to water for a couple of days is a good reminder that I need to also take care of myself. I might not be physically wilting the way a plant does, but I definitely feel like something is lacking when I neglect to nurture myself.” — Kristen Mae

By far the best part of plant ownership is how it gives us a little glimpse into how we’re handling our own responsibilities. If your plants aren’t thriving due to your care, it’s probably a good time to look at the rest of your life as well.

The truth is, you can’t just fill your house with plants and call it a day. Working toward improved mental health is a process that deserves your care and attention.

If caring for plants makes you feel all grown up, then relearning to care for yourself will make you an adulting master.

Luckily, we share some of the same requirements to thrive that plants do. Here are some self-care tips that work for plants and humans alike:

  • Stay hydrated.
  • Get lots of fresh air and sunlight.
  • Make sure you’re getting the proper nutrients.
  • Talk nicely about, and to, yourself.
  • Know that it’s possible to perk up after you wilt.
  • Give yourself the right conditions to thrive.
  • Cut off “dead weight” that’s bringing you down.
  • Tidy up your environment.
  • Allow yourself to have “seasons.”
  • If something isn’t working, troubleshoot.

Mandi Em is a freelance writer, humorist, and blogger behind Healthy Living for Hot Messes. Mandi is a proud mother of 3 kids, and many finicky houseplants.