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Self-Care Hack: Keep Close to Plants

You’ve probably heard of various self-care hacks before: writing your emotions down and keeping a journal, expressing gratitude, meditating and practicing mindfulness. But here’s one that you probably haven’t considered yet—having plants inside your home can have a positive effect on your wellbeing, and it’s an effective, low-key way to nudge yourself towards simply feeling better.

Intuitively, we know that nature’s good for us. Basking in a garden, trekking through a mountain, sitting underneath a tree, lying down on a field and gazing up at the stars—all of these recharge our souls and drain the tension we’ve accumulated from a stressful day. Being stuck for too long inside concrete walls triggers a sense of being trapped, and windows looking out over green scenery are a welcome addition to most homes.

Psychologists have confirmed this through a 2014 study (Nieuwenhuis, Knight, Posthem, & Haslam) from Journal of Experimental Psychology, which examined how office workers performed when inside a green versus lean office space. Their findings state that “the most toxic space” a human being can stay in would be a stripped down, harshly utilitarian office, devoid of plants, souvenirs, photos, and other distractions; in turn, they’re more able to focus when surrounded by plenty of plants. Researchers from another study (Kestens, Chaix, Shareck, & Vallée, 2015) have also found out that people who live in urban areas tend to have worse mental health than those in rural areas, exhibiting higher risks for depression and anxiety. While the exact cause of this hasn’t been pinned down yet, it’s possible that disconnect from nature is the culprit.

What if you do live in the city and you’re not planning to move anytime soon, or you just don’t have access to gardens, parks, forests? No need to despair—if you can’t bring yourself to nature, then you can bring nature to your home. The beauty of this is that it works even on a small scale: you don’t need an entire greenhouse to reap the benefits. A few plants inside your home are enough, or heck, even a single plant (succulents, if you want minimum babysitting?) or a bouquet of flowers on your desk.

To further convince you, let me describe in detail how plants are good for your wellbeing:

1. You get to breathe cleaner air 

We breathe around 23,000 times a day, taking in oxygen from the air around us and circulating it to every cell in our body. If we’re so fastidious about the food that we eat, what about the air we breathe? Plants complement us perfectly in that they release what we consume, and vice-versa: they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, giving our lungs a larger supply to draw from. Air indoors isn’t also as clean as you’d think it’d be—it contains a lot of pollutants like benzene and ammonia, and a 1989 NASA study (Wolverton, Johnson, & Bounds) shows that plants can actually absorb these through their leaves and render the air much cleaner.

2. Your immune system gets a boost 

The Japanese have a practice called forest-bathing or shinrin-yoku, and it’s exactly what the name implies: spending time in a forest. Forest-bathing knocks out your stress, lowers your blood pressure, makes you better at fighting off diseases—all because of essential oils (phytoncides) that plants emit to keep themselves safe from germs and bugs. These phytoncides are inhaled by humans, and our body’s reaction is to produce more natural killer cells, which give our immune system a huge boost (Li, 2010). It’s not surprising that plants are becoming increasingly common in hospital rooms, given that they speed up the healing process! Another side benefit is they contribute a lot of moisture to the air, which flu viruses hate, and it becomes less likely for you to get colds, sore throats, and dry coughs (Fjeld, Veiersted, Sandvik, Riise, & Levy, 1998).

3. You can focus better and ignore distractions

Plants can be your study buddies too! Try this out next time: bring your huge textbook (or overwhelming amount of paperwork), then compare how long you can stick with it when you’re sitting in a barren room versus when you have a bunch of potted plants right beside you. You’re bound to be able to focus (and memorise) better in the company of plants (Raanaas, Evensen, Rich, Sjøstrøm, & Patil, 2011). This surprising effect has been replicated in a lot of studies, demonstrating that people perform more high-quality work and increase their memory retention up to 20% (Berman, Jonides, & Kaplan, 2008), and children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) become significantly more engaged with their tasks (Faber & Kuo, 2009).

4. Your mental health improves

Richard Louv describes nature-deficit disorder in his book “Last Child in the Woods,” correlating the present generation’s alienation from nature with rises in childhood depression, Attention Deficit Disorder, and obesity. This is in line with what Edward Wilson calls “biophilia,” which refers to our innate desire to connect with nature or other living things. Being around plants can ease loneliness and depression and also promote feelings of optimism and peace. In particular, plants tend to lower your sympathetic nervous system activity, which flares up when you’re experiencing a stressful fight-or-flight response (Lee, Lee, Park, & Miyazaki, 2015). This makes them especially well-suited for relaxation places such as spas and retreat centers.

5. You become more compassionate

In order for your houseplant to survive, you more or less have to take care of it, even if it’s as minor as watering it every day or moving it closer to sunlight. It’s a two-way relationship: for everything that plants give, they also need your care. Much like having a pet, this gives you an increased sense of purpose and empowerment, while letting you practice mindfulness (Langer, 1976). Do this day by day, and you slowly start to feel more connected to the environment. Surprisingly, this spills over into your relationships with people: we know from studies that being exposed to plants makes you more compassionate towards others, and more likely to help (Zhang, Piff, Iyer, Koleva, & Keltner, 2014). Caring for your plant, in a strange way, becomes a path to cultivating kindness and empathy.

 

 

References:

Berman, M. G., Jonides, J., & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological science19(12), 1207-1212.

Faber Taylor, A., & Kuo, F. E. (2009). Children with attention deficits concentrate better after walk in the park. Journal of attention disorders12(5), 402-409.

Fjeld, T., Veiersted, B., Sandvik, L., Riise, G., & Levy, F. (1998). The effect of indoor foliage plants on health and discomfort symptoms among office workers. Indoor and Built Environment7(4), 204-209.

Kestens, Y., Chaix, B., Shareck, M., & Vallée, J. (2016). Comments on Melis et al. The Effects of the Urban Built Environment on Mental Health: A Cohort Study in a Large Northern Italian City. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 2015, 12, 14898–14915. International journal of environmental research and public health13(3), 250.

Langer, E. J. (1976). The effects of choice and enhanced personal responsibility for the aged: A field experiment in an institutional setting. J Personal Soc Psychol34(2), 191-198.

Lee, M. S., Lee, J., Park, B. J., & Miyazaki, Y. (2015). Interaction with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity in young adults: a randomized crossover study. Journal of physiological anthropology34(1), 21.

Louv, R. (2008). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Algonquin Books.

Nieuwenhuis, M., Knight, C., Postmes, T., & Haslam, S. A. (2014). The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: Three field experiments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied20(3), 199.

Raanaas, R. K., Evensen, K. H., Rich, D., Sjøstrøm, G., & Patil, G. (2011). Benefits of indoor plants on attention capacity in an office setting. Journal of Environmental Psychology31(1), 99-105.

Wilson, E. (1992). 0.(1984) Biophilia. Cambridge, Mass.

Wolverton, B. C., Johnson, A., & Bounds, K. (1989). Interior landscape plants for indoor air pollution abatement.

Li, Q. (2010). Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental health and preventive medicine15(1), 9-17.

Zhang, J. W., Piff, P. K., Iyer, R., Koleva, S., & Keltner, D. (2014). An occasion for unselfing: Beautiful nature leads to prosociality. Journal of Environmental Psychology37, 61-72.

11 Comments

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  1. Interesting article. This kind of self-care hack is different than others, and then it’s nice that you brought the topic here. It’s refreshing whenever i see any plant on the corner of a room on pinterest, or seeing someone’s yard which full of green plants. I agree with the argument that we will have more chances to breath the clean air. This is well-written, i like how you include those studies, references, and how you describe each argument. I enjoy it.

  2. Nice. I really like this article. I’ve always liked nature to begin with, but sadly my modern city only has curated parks and reserves left. That said, my parents like rearing plants and flowers. It is also pretty therapeutic and exhilarating to see the plants grow bigger and stronger!

  3. This is such an unexpected article, in a good way. I loved it because it showed me things and terms I didn’t even know existed until now. I also really like how well written this piece is, every point is clear and there are tons of information that’s backed by real evidence and I appreciate that a lot.
    I am not a very big fan of nature, I usually prefer the comfort of my house. Despite that, I can agree that, after spending too much time inside, it gets not only boring, but mentally draining and exhausting. Even I, who prefer concrete rather than grass, sometimes need a break from the 4 walls I am constantly in and now that I know how beneficial it is to have plants near me, I am considering getting one to put in my room.

  4. This is an excellent article and one that I can relate very much to. I’ve taken to keeping plants, mostly succulents, to help with my chronic depression and anxiety. I’ve found it to be helpful and calming when I water my plants or trim them because it eases my feelings of helplessness, and allows me to focus on making sure that they are healthy and growing instead of having my fears overwhelm me.
    I feel as if I’m not useless when I’m looking after my plants, and keeping a watering schedule and reminders to trim them helps me keep track of time, and gives me another thing to look forward to. Seeing my plants growing makes me feels happy because it shows me that I am not incapable or invalid.
    The article explains how and why keeping plants makes people feel that way, and I believe that a lot of people could benefit from reading this article because it shows that, sometimes, self-care can be about helping someone or something else, and that there’s nothing wrong with that.
    Regarding how plants can help decrease the potential for distraction, it’d be great if you could expand more on how exactly do plants do this. There was mention of a study that supported the statement, but there was no clear indication as to how having plants manage to help people not get distracted. Is it because of the color? Is it the presence of a living yet inactive object? I’d like to know more about the reason behind it!
    Overall, a well-written article with good insight and helpful advice!

  5. As I read I started to wonder that why do plants have such big of an impact on us. I ended up with a conclusion that it’s just a part of our nature that roots from our early history and evolution. Even though we’ve developed to be this intellectual, advanced species our ancient instincts still guide us. I also realized, for the first time, that how plants affect me. I feel so much more comfortable and better around them, as well as I feel more relaxed and happier when I’m outside the city and surrounded by nature. Something about plants has always fascinated me.
    This was a very well written article with a very interesting topic!

  6. Interesting article! I really like information about self-care so this grabbed my attention immediately. And I liked the way you formatted the article to give us clear information on the benefits of having a plant indoors. It was a little short and broad towards the end. I think it’s just that I thought the information was very interesting that I wanted to learn more about it. But, overall great job!

  7. This article actually really caught my attention, very interesting topic to choose from. I really like that you used references and included them into your article to justify your claims. I actually learned also that plants could increase your compassion since we have to take care of them, and really like that you included that, since not many people know about that aspect of taking care of plants and affects it could have no a person. I also like how you included both scientific and psychological ways it could change a person. Perhaps you could have included a conclusion, instead of just ending on your last point. Otherwise, great article!

  8. This was an interesting topic to pick for an article. A lot of people would assume that the health benefits of plants are obvious, but they might not be aware on just how the truly are beneficial. I enjoyed the way the article was formatted; the introduction leading onto a couple of studies on the subject, to then segregating onto the individual points.

    I hadn’t even known about phytoncides before reading this article, so I enjoyed this article even more for teaching me something. Having actual facts/data presented to us, and actually mentioning the studies in the article while trying to make a point [e.g. you get to breath cleaner air; indoor air isn’t as clean as many would believe -then you mention it containing benzene and ammonia], make it a much more enjoyable read.

  9. This was a very interesting read! Though I consider myself to be very city-oriented, I too find a walk in a park, or any green space, to be very relaxing and cleansing. The author has managed to adequately point out multiple benefits that can be gained by taking care of plants, using multiple sources and studies to back their argument, providing a stable base upon which the article lies. Well done!

  10. These are all true. Good thing my mom loves plants and eveytime I just want to unwind, I sit outside our house where there are plants every corner. And sometimes even if you just stare at them, it makes you relaxing. When you see a flower newly-fully bloomed it just makes me instantly happy and even tells my mom immediately like it’s some sort of a very good news. Sometimes I take photos of them and put them up as my wallpaper because they’re just so beautiful to look at. Nature does this thing to us that makes us calm, relaxed, focused and feel happy without any cost.

  11. I never thought of the benefits I receive from plants before. While reading the article, I could think of examples in my life where being around a plant, whether it was outside or a simple house plant, greatly improved my work ethic on a certain task and mood while completing the task versus when I sit inside a barren room. Now, after reading it, I am going to invest in a succulent soon.
    The article was thoroughly developed. The use of psychological and biological evidence enhanced the writing and caused the message to come across clear and convincing. Ocon defined terms like “phytoncides” and “biophilia” which helps the reader follow along. Overall, I could tell that thought and pre-planning went into writing this article.

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Turn Envy into Strength – David Ludden’s view

Self-Care Hack: Keep Close to Plants