Stop and Smell the Roses: How Plants Alleviate Mental Health

indoor garden

Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet—but probably not as healthy as the flowers and trees? Many studies already show that while candies and other saccharine treats can give many people a natural high, it could be the plants that may help improve a person’s mental health.

The question is how. These latest science-backed reports will tell you:

1. Plants Can Make Work Life Better

Stress can come in many forms, and one of the known monsters is work. In the UK, a study among employed adults in 2020 revealed that almost 80 percent dealt with work-related stress. This was significantly higher than in 2018, where fewer than 60 percent blamed their jobs on their stressful thoughts and feelings.

While one cannot escape from stress, fortunately, there are many steps to cope with it. One of these is plants.

In a 2020 research by the University of Hyogo in Japan and shared by the American Society for Horticultural Science, the team experimented with indoor plants on the desks of around 63 employees. These people would have to take a three-minute break whenever they would feel fatigued.

They also had the option to pick among six types of indoor plants and either place their choice on their preferred corner of the desk (passive involvement) or take care of them (active involvement).

Based on the results, those exposed to plants either passively or actively (or both) showed decreased symptoms of anxiety, which can also be a risk factor or sign of stress. The pattern remained the same across all age groups and regardless of the plant they chose.

Stress can lead to burnout and disengagement, and both can be costly and detrimental to the business and the employee. The experiment’s outcome made the researchers believe that adding small indoor plants could already be a cost-effective measure in improving workplace well-being.

2. Vertical Greenery Can Decrease the Effects of Stress

The study mentioned above talked about the positive mental effects of indoor plants? But how about garden design in the outdoors? Another Asian research implied that the impact is similar—that is, the presence of greenery on the walls of buildings, balconies, and footpaths may help temper the negative effects of too much stress.

For the study, the team from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University invited participants to a virtual-reality session, whose stress levels were monitored through a portable ECG device that measures their heart rate.

During this time, they needed to walk for about five minutes on either a street lined with plants or buildings painted green. To further make the experience more realistic, they added urban noise like that of traffic.

The analyses then revealed that those randomly assigned to walk on streets and see only green buildings seemed to show increased stress levels, perhaps through their elevated heart rate. Meanwhile, participants who “walked through” paths of plants didn’t experience any changes in their stress levels.

tulip plants

Further, when they answered a questionnaire about their positive or negative emotions, as well as their level of anxiety, the ones who passed through green buildings said they felt less positive. The other group didn’t report feeling more or less positive.

Many factors might have caused these differences. These include studies that showed how urban centers tend to be hotter and, therefore, less comfortable because of fewer plants and more buildings that can bounce back or trap the heat. An abnormal level of discomfort can also increase the feelings of stress.

The team also introduced the biophilic concept, which involves humans’ innate connection with nature. Simply put, people may have been designed to commune with natural surroundings, and thus, when they achieve that, they will feel more relaxed and content.

3. Urban Trees May Decrease Depression Risk

Previous studies have already correlated the reduced risk of depression and the presence of street trees. However, according to a group of German researchers, many used a self-reported questionnaire, which could be biased.

For something more objective, they looked into the number of prescribed antidepressants in relation to the distance and number of streets present in the homes of these patients. They used the data of nearly 10,000 residents in a midsized German city called Leipzig.

According to their research, the risks of being described with an antidepressant were smaller when many street trees are less than a hundred meters away from home. Moreover, the link was strong among deprived groups, who are also more likely to be diagnosed with depression.

Plants are not merely for aesthetics. Not only can they help mitigate climate change and global warming, but they may also improve people’s mental health—a win-win for humanity.

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