The Psychology of Houseplants

Plants are a metaphor for our lives.

The average person spends more than 85 percent of their time indoors, maybe more so now because of COVID-19. So it’s no surprise that quarantine has made plant parents of a lot of us. But the human connection with plants is ageless; countless studies have analyzed the mental health benefits of keeping indoor foliage.

People have been keeping potted plants as far back as ancient Egypt, Babylon, and Rome. Wealthy Victorians embraced houseplants as a way to brighten the dull, dreary English winters. In the 1970s, the decade of the world’s first Earth Day, there was an indoor foliage boom. There are many mental health advantages to having plants in your home and office spaces that have been documented across psychology studies.

Houseplants give you a taste of nature.
Houseplants are an easy way to bring the outside in and reap the restorative benefits of being in nature, even when you can’t be outside.  A Japanese study that explores Shinrin-yoku (‘forest bathing’) found that spending time around nature lowers stress levels, reduces blood pressure and has an overall relaxing effect on the body. Forest bathing is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.

Tending to plants models self-care.
Caring for a plant, giving it water and sunlight, cutting it back when needed, repotting to a better space, the simple consistent habits required for plants to thrive, lay the foundation of doing these things for yourself.

Plants improve executive functioning.
Caring for plants creates a positive feedback loop, in which you are taking on a measured responsibility, following through, and witnessing the effects. Tangible evidence of what can happen when we are consistent, do what needs to be done, and adapt to our environmental needs. Plants teach us the outcome is worth the effort and that we are constantly growing and evolving. The sequential aspect of plant care is good for our mental functioning.

Plants can boost your creativity.
Plants are good for brain storming and creativity. A Texas A&M University, department of psychology, study found that having indoor plants in the workplace greatly improved idea generation, creative problem-solving, and boosted sustained effort.

Plants can make you more productive.
A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that the presence of plants in the workplace led to increased productivity, energy, and higher levels of concentration. Maintaining plants actually appears to stimulate your brain and increase your attention span.

Plants reduce feelings of anxiety.
Exposure to indoor plants has positive effects on mental health. When we’re in the presence of indoor plants, the activity of our sympathetic nervous system, which is the fight-or-flight portion of our nervous system, decreases. Indoor plants promote a sense of relaxation, comfort, and calm.

Plants promote mindfulness.
Most people with anxiety worry about the future. They may be mentally living in the future, worried about what’s going to happen next, or what could go wrong. Mindfulness brings emotions and feelings to the present. Taking the time to tend to plants can be considered a mindfulness activity.

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