Most people know that spending time outside in a natural setting is wonderful for your mood, but you can get those same mental health benefits with indoor houseplants as well. There have been a large number of scientific studies into the effect that plants have on us, and there are many documented facts about keeping houseplants to better our lives. If you’re not convinced, here is a breakdown of the main health benefits that houseplants can provide.
Reduce Stress and Anxiety
This is probably the main benefit people think of when talking about houseplants and mental health. Having green plants around helps to reduce feelings of anxiety and they can actually help lower your blood pressure too. Plants bring feelings of calm, peace and optimism with them, and can bring a little extra happiness to your day. Another aspect of reducing stress is that houseplants can help speed healing or recovery from illness, mainly by creating a relaxing atmosphere and improving the air (which we’ll go into more detail below). Hospitals often keep many plants for this exact reason, to give a boost for patient recovery.
Improve Focus and Concentration
While plants are known to be relaxing, they also have a positive effect on staying focused and motivated at the same time. You can take advantage of this at work by getting a few extra plants for your office or work station to help boost productivity and to help you stay on task. Depending on where you work, you may need to take a little more care in choosing a plant that does fine in low light. Most offices don’t get a great deal of natural sunlight, unless you have a great window.
Pride and Accomplishment
Another mental benefit of keeping houseplants is that great feeling you get from taking care of a living thing and having it thrive. Watching new leaves open up, or being able to coax out a lovely blossom is a wonderful feeling that will really give your mood a boost.
Of course, you only get this benefit from your plants if you are able to keep them green and growing. Dead plants are not inspiring. For novice indoor gardeners, stick with hardy plants that will do well even with inconsistent (or even negligent) care. Some institutions, like hospitals, schools and even prisons, have turned to gardening therapy as a way to inspire and relax. These programs often include both indoor houseplants as well as outdoor gardening. It’s powerful therapy.
Another reason that plants are important in places like schools or prisons is that caring for them heightens the gardener’s sense of empathy, and how they relate to other people. Knowing that you are responsible for keeping something alive has a profound effect on how you see others. Granted, this tends to be a mental health benefit that applies mainly to the person keeping the plants, rather than just anyone in the area.
Improve Air Quality
You can also find a number of more tangible physical benefits from having a few plants around, namely in terms of your air quality. Toxins and contaminants in the air come from chemicals found in our everyday routines, such as cleaning products, treated wood and even the fabrics in upholstery, bedding and clothing. Compounds like formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene are found in just about any home these days, along with excess carbon dioxide. This can cause a number of reactions in people, such as headaches, dizziness, asthma, and fatigue. In particular, formaldehyde is classed as a carcinogen.
Plants also add fresh oxygen to your environment, and most will also bring a little more moisture and humidity as well. The plants themselves release moisture through their leaves, and the damp soil also provides a source of humidity in the air. Overly dry air can be an irritant to eyes, nose and throat and can cause a persistent cough. Poor indoor air quality can also make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, and we all know how that can have a negative impact on your health during the day.
While these are not directly mental health issues, being comfortable and healthy in your home is an important part of your emotional well-being.
Plants to Choose
If you are interested in adding a few houseplants to your home so you can improve your own environment, here are a few choices to consider. They are all very easy to care for and are well-known to be excellent at cleaning up your indoor air.
Pothos – This is a classic beginner houseplant, and is easy to keep regardless of how green your thumbs are. It’s a vining plant with big green and yellow leaves, and it will do well in any sunny window as long as it’s not getting a full blast of direct sun all day. They’ll do OK in a low-light area too, if that’s what you have to work with. Let the soil dry out between waterings, and that’s all there is to it.
Snake Plant – Also called the mother-in-law tongue, this is a great houseplant for a table or even a large pot on the floor (some varieties get up to 3 feet tall). It has tall upright leaves with variegated stripes, giving it a striking appearance. Some sun and occasional watering is all these plants need to perk up your living space.
Peace Lily – Many flowering plants are better for outdoors, but the peace lily is a great exception. It’s a large bushy plant once it gets established and it produces a single white lily bloom each year. These are the best plants for rooms with less light, and you just have to watch for the tell-tale leaf droop to know when it needs water.
Though these are 3 examples of “beginner” houseplants, you are certainly not limited to these. Any plants that do well in your space are fine. Once you get more familiar with keeping plants indoors, you can experiment with any type of plant that catches your eye. It can be quite a hobby once you get going.
How many is enough? Well, in order to really gain the benefits of having houseplants around, you’ll need around 1 plant for every 100 sq ft of room area. Keep them in spaces you spend the most time, like the kitchen, living room or at the office. A couple in the bedroom would be a good idea too.
So whether you stick to one or two plants, or decide to turn your living space into a jungle, you’ll find they bring many health benefits that can improve your life.