Ask any avid plant parent: The more uncertain and stressful life gets, the more plants you need, and the more benefits you’ll reap. Indoor plants have been rising in popularity for good reason.
“Our mental health is deeply affected by our physical environments,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly. “Those who live in negative environments — from noise-polluted spaces to visually toxic settings — do not fare as well as those who live in environments that feel soothing, natural, and comfortable.” Enter: indoor plants.
While the benefits of spending time with your green friends isn’t quite as measurable as getting your daily minerals and vitamins, there has been a spattering of positive research. Below, we delve into these findings and chat with Dr. Manly about other ways plants help us thrive.
Possible benefits of indoor plants
- Being around plants can boost work productivity.
- Taking care of plants can give you a sense of pride and achievement.
- Their presence can cut down on your stress.
- They’re an antidote for screen-based living.
- Plants remind us that change is a part of life.
- They bring color and vibrance to our worlds.
- Plants help us slow down and be more mindful.
FYI, it’s a myth that houseplants detoxify the air
This commonly cited myth originated from a study NASA did in the 80s. While it’s true they found plants can reduce indoor air pollutants, the study was done in a tiny, totally enclosed space. According to reporting done by the Atlantic, you’d need one plant per square foot in order to replicate NASA’s results.
One study found natural elements like greenery in the workplace was associated with better productivity and higher job satisfaction.
Another older study had the same findings, noting that keeping indoor plants near workers’ desks increased productivity, and even decreased sick leave. Which proves that not even plants are safe from having to participate in capitalism.
Plant parenting can be tough. But the quiet triumph of getting your little green friends to thrive makes it all worthwhile. In fact, taking care of plants is so rewarding that researchers have experimented with “horticultural therapy.”
One study found tending plants helped patients who were hospitalized with mental health issues feel pride and a sense of achievement. Another found that taking care of plants was associated with better self-esteem and life satisfaction.
“Watching a plant thrive can offer a true sense of accomplishment when progress in other areas of life might not be possible,” says Manly. “Caring for plants tends to take us out of a worried and judgmental headspace and into a grounded, nurturing space.”
We aren’t going to pretend like caring for plants is as effective as taking a pill but with all the stress we face on a day-to-day basis, we could use all the help we can get.
One small study found that interacting with plants reduce signs of both psychological and physiological stress and promoted “comfortable, soothed, and natural feelings.”
“On a neurobiological level, comforting, routine activities such as caring for plants can have a very calming effect on the brain and body. When we engage in positive tasks that require mindful focus, we can absolutely benefit on both physical and psychological levels,” says Manly.
Our current lifestyles (read: staring at computer, phone, and TV screens all day long) do not reflect the environments that we as humans evolved in. Plants, on the other hand, have always been by our sides.
Manly states that up until the last few centuries, humans spent the vast majority of time in “nature’s embrace.” Now, times are much different.
“As a result of having been jarringly forced by industrialization to separate from the natural environment that our recent ancestors called home, we crave — consciously and unconsciously — the comfort and restorative power of nature,” says Manly.
It can be really difficult to withstand change and new normals (we’re looking at you, 2020), especially if you have preexisting mental health conditions or other medical issues that make adapting a challenge.
Plants are constantly blooming, growing (or maybe wilting), serving as an excellent metaphor and physical reminder of our ever-changing lives.
Though maybe only subtly, your mood can be impacted by your surroundings. “Green plants and cheery flowers are known to have a positive effect on mood because the mind equates plant life to the soothing, uplifting realm of nature,” says Manly.
She says the color green gives the psyche a comforting sense of calm and positivity and pops of color like red or yellow bring an extra dose of happiness.
Today, we spend so much time in our own heads, chasing around racing thoughts and hustling to keep our lives in order. Even though we all know slowing down and incorporating mindfulness could do us good, it’s usually easier to just get swept up by the inertia instead.
But you can actually treat plant care as a mindfulness practice. Each time you water them, use your senses to notice the colors, textures, and smells of the plant.
Plants are harmless for the most part, but there are a few things to keep in mind. For one, some plants are poisonous to pets. So if you own a furry friend, make sure to do your research and only buy pet-safe plants.
Also, although it’s unlikely your houseplants are going to give you allergies (they don’t generally have much pollen), the natural humidity and dampness created by keeping plants indoors has been found to worsen asthma, especially in children. So if you or someone you live with has asthma, you probably want to avoid making your house into a jungle.
We don’t necessarily need indoor plants to survive, but they certainly can make a positive difference in our lives when we bring them into our homes. The benefits of indoor plants are undeniable for many plant parents, so why not give plant-parenting a shot for yourself?