Recent events over the past year have caused dramatic increases in psychological distress. In addition to limiting social connection and recreational activities, social distancing and stay at home orders during the pandemic have changed people’s accessibility to outdoor environmental exposure. Exposure to nature, from access to an office window to physically being in greenspaces, has been shown to improve mood and memory among other cognitive functions, like attention and concentration, and reduce stress levels among numerous other health benefits.
More on stress management that works here.
Ecopsychology “explores humans’ psychological interdependence with the rest of nature and the implications for identity, health, and well-being”. Application of ecopsychology in daily wellness (ecotherapy) does not necessarily have to extend to nature or wilderness retreats or outdoor recreation, but some researchers argue for houseplants as an alternative approach to ecotherapy.
Houseplant shops across the country have seen dramatic increases in plant sales over the last year, thought to be largely in part due to plants becoming an outlet for self-care during pandemic times. Indeed, the houseplant trend is not new to quarantine life, but the connection between nature and self-care has become glaringly important during a uniquely difficult era.
So, can your plants really make you happier?
The science behind it
The scientific literature on ecopsychology is relatively scarce when it specifically comes to house plants and psychological wellness (e.g. feeling more content). Nonetheless, in addition to demonstrated psychological benefit of contact with nature, scientific findings suggest mechanisms through (1) stress reduction and (2) stimulating compassion.
One rationale behind why plants might give us a mental health boost is that exposure to greenery appears to reduce physiological and subjective reactions to stress. Stress is highly related to mental health, and as a contributor to stress reduction, ecotherapy may indirectly contribute to better psychological wellbeing.
On the other hand, caring for something may also boost positive moods. Some research suggests a link between plant care, improved relationships, and increased levels of compassion. Caring for nature appears to be a predictor of caring for other people and fostering compassion, which is highly related to psychological well-being. Further, active interactions with indoor plants (e.g. tending to, transplanting) may have even greater psychological benefits than more passive interactions (e.g. looking at).
Some research suggests that women-identifying individuals are more likely to psychologically benefit from houseplants and that flowering plants have been observed to elicit greater benefit than nonflowering plants. Still, the effects appear to benefit across the board and the push for indoor greenery on college campuses may benefit extending to college students and professionals alike who are homebound during the pandemic.
Want to bring a little more nature into your home or office but don’t know where to start? Here are the 10 easiest houseplants to take care of.
Don’t have access to houseplants? Not a problem. Access to nature outdoors also shows consistent benefit to mental wellness (and it’s usually free!).
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