Last year, I read Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, where he describes how the mental health of residents in a care home improved drastically when they were given plants to look after. Houseplants improve your mental health, you ask?
Indeed they do, and not just for care homes residents. Think about it: plants gives us something to nurture, something living that relies on us to survive, and that can give us a huge sense of purpose.
Time to thrive
I’ve never been able to keep a plant alive longer than a month. But during lockdown, I thought I’d give it another go. I liked the idea of nurturing something – I am not responsible enough for pets, I made a decision a long time ago not to have children and the husband is pretty self-sufficient, so plants seemed like the right fit. And I have to tell you I am loving it!
I researched the hardy plants and thought that would be a good start for a novice like me. I also got gifted an orchid but kept my cool and didn’t panic. I’m pleased to say they are all thriving and have lasted nearly two years now.
And I feel like I’m thriving too. Taking a few moments every day to check them, make sure they’re doing OK, watering or misting them, just gives me a few moments of peace and quiet. More importantly, it creates a nice routine and puts me back in touch with nature.
Here are ways houseplants improve our mental health:
They help you breathe
That GCSE in biology came in handy as I knew that plants are good for cleaning the air around us by absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen. So, it made sense to bring some plants indoors.
Some plants, called succulents, are even known to detoxify the air. Especially useful with all the electronics we have in our homes and very beneficial for home office areas!
I’m even looking at more scented varieties – especially some lavender in the bedroom as it’s known to help relaxation.
It takes you back to nature
Another way houseplants improve your mental health is by giving you a break from technology. Just watching them change over the course of a day reminds you how powerful nature is. Sometimes, you don’t need to do anything and they will show you what it means to be still and calm.
Also, studies have shown that having plants can lower your blood pressure and other symptoms of stress; mainly because it’s just a small physical task rather than a strenuous mental one which you may have done all day for work.
They give you a sense of accomplishment
Nurturing something and seeing it grow and bloom provides a boost to your self-esteem. Just that small sense of pride can really add up over time and shouldn’t be underestimated.
Even if you end up killing half of your plants, don’t give up! The ones that are surviving should be your focus and you can learn where you went wrong.
Learning something new is great for the brain
Anything that nurtures the intelligent and rational part of your brain is good. It keeps you away from your fight or flight response and means that you’re not filling up your stress bucket with negative thoughts.
There is pleasure to be found in researching something new. What’s the next plant you should buy? What works best in what room? It’s fantastic stuff. It really stretches the mind in a beneficial way.
An earlier version of this article was published on Gin Lalli’s blog.
Solution-focused therapist Gin Lalli helps individuals and organisations from all over the globe empty their stress buckets.
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