Having plants scattered around your home provides important benefits to your emotional well-being. In this Verywell Mind article, Mindpath Health’s Rashmi Parmar, MD, and Leela R. Magavi, MD, discuss how houseplants can impact your mental health.
Most people think of houseplants as a way to beautify an indoor space. But beyond aesthetics, having a few plants scattered around your home may also provide important benefits to your emotional wellbeing during the pandemic, according to a new study published in the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.
The report, which surveyed more than 4,000 people from around the world, found that having vegetation at home boosted emotional wellbeing for about 74% of participants amid COVID-19 lockdowns. People with houseplants also tended to experience negative emotions less frequently than those with no greenery at home.
“Plants are more than just home decor; they add a whole new dimension to your otherwise lifeless space at home,” says Rashmi Parmar, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health.
Findings on houseplants and mental health during the pandemic
For the new study, researchers from the University of Seville’s School of Agricultural Engineering in Spain, as well as other international universities, wanted to learn about how having plants at home affected people’s emotional welfare while confined during the pandemic.
Just over half of participants said they increased the amount of time they spent caring for their plants during lockdown, while nearly 63% said they wanted to devote more time to plant care once things got back to normal.
The findings may point to a forthcoming trend in bringing more houseplants into the home once the majority of people are vaccinated and the pandemic finally comes to an end.
For example, another study released in November 2020 found that people who spent more time outdoors or simply looked at greenery from their windows at home had more positive mental health outcomes early on in the pandemic.
Why plants help us feel better
While the study does not establish why plants were associated with improved mental health during the pandemic, mental health experts say there are science-backed explanations for this trend.
“Research has shown that actively interacting with plants can reduce physical and emotional stress, through effects mediated by the cardiovascular system, particularly by reducing sympathetic tone and by lowering blood pressure while promoting relaxing and soothing feelings,” explains Dr. Parmar.
“Urban green spaces have been linked with positive emotions and reduced stress level,” Dr. Parmar explains. “Having an indoor plant may serve as a reminder of such positive memories, as well as the physical effects you might have experienced during those relaxing trips with nature.”
Plus, plants can even alleviate some of the loneliness many people have been coping with over the last year, says Leela R. Magavi, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health.
“Like animals, houseplants can improve individuals’ mood by allowing them to care for something other than themselves,” Dr. Magavi says. “This can create a sense of connectedness, which can alleviate feelings of anxiety and loneliness.”
Getting benefits from plants in low-light homes
People who live in homes with big, sunny windows can easily add a few houseplants to their home for a greater sense of wellbeing. But where does that leave the millions of urban dwellers who live in cramped apartments with little natural light?
“The benefits of nature are not limited to direct exposure. Studies have shown just seeing images of green spaces when compared to images of urban settings show similar benefits to nature exposure,” says Yonatan Kaplan, MD.
“There are even studies on using virtual reality to create simulated nature experiences for stress reduction,” Dr. Kaplan, says.
“If you live in a setting where those aren’t easily accessible, it is important that you do some sort of outdoor activity on a regular basis to allow yourself to be exposed to the sunlight and to breathe fresh air,” says Drew Pate, MD. “It can be as simple as a stroll around the block or going to a local park, but any regular outside activity will help lift your mood and energy level.”
The key is to try to find a mindful way to engage with nature, whether that’s through a walk in a local park, gardening in your backyard, watering your favorite potted succulent, or simply hanging plant-inspired artwork in your bedroom.
“It helps a person slow down for a few moments from the hustle and bustle of the daily routine,” says Dr. Parmar. “It provides a much-needed distraction from the undue stress and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic in your day-to-day life.”
Read the full Verywell Mind article with sources.