by Jessica Webster, LPC-MHSP | Ferren Family Counseling
The COVID lock down of 2020 affected us all differently in many ways, some positive and some negative. For me, I found and cultivated a love of houseplants. They became a great way to cope with my own mental health. I never stopped my work as a therapist during the lockdown. Instead, I just switched to Telehealth sessions to provide my clients with continued mental health help. I had to find my own ways to cope at the very least so I could support my own clients and family. I found taking care of my houseplants greatly reduced my stress and also created these lovely spaces in my home that I found myself enjoying everyday. I always have known that green plants will put extra oxygen into the air which was a benefit I had begun to explore before the pandemic. I also knew that with more oxygen in the air that cognitive abilities would also be improved. There has been study after study completed over the last few decades that also proves these facts—that people and plants are naturally connected.
The review data, collected and analyzed by researchers Charles Hall and Melinda Knuth at Texas A&M University and published in the Journal of Environmental Horticulture1, supports the notion that living in or near green spaces, and spending as much time as possible in both natural settings and cultivated gardens can improve mood, reduce the negative effects of stress, encourage physical activity and other positive behaviors, improve cognition, reduce aggression, and enhance overall well-being in people of all ages under many different circumstances.
Through research, people have found that spending time in natural settings can reduce stress by slowing down heart rate, reducing high blood pressure, and lowering anxiety2. People also experienced reduced symptoms of depression and were better able to focus and concentrate on a test of their working memory after a walk in nature compared with one in an urban setting. Short nature breaks increase well-being and improve attention span, working memory and cognitive functioning in children as well as adults. Students and employees with a view of nature, either indoors or right outside their windows, were not only found to be more productive but also more alert, more attentive, more relaxed, in better moods as well as having increased creativity.
Seeing plants around my space gave me something to smile about and increased my positive emotions. When my job moved to Telehealth, being focused on a computer screen led to quite a bit of mental fatigue. Even the act of watering them was soothing and gave me something to focus on and helped me get out of my own head. I found myself loving when my plants would sprout new leaves and learning about what each needed to thrive. There was definitely some trial and error and I have lost quite a few through the learning process. Houseplants have also been helpful in teaching myself to have compassion when my plants don’t do well. If this has been your experience don’t let this stop you from trying again.
Just like I was learning how to take care of my own plants (and myself), I continue to encourage my clients and others to keep learning about their own healing. This work is ongoing, but you have the strength within to get through this. Learn as much as you can about your own habits, triggers, how you cope, your support network, and how to practice self-care.
Just like plants, we humans need nourishment: get some Vitamin D, a healthy diet, exercise, sleep, etc. During the repotting process, you may have to trim away any dead pieces that are no longer contributing to the plant’s growth. Doing this can serve as a reminder of your own growth: as you approach different life stages, you sometimes have to let go of who or what may be stopping you from thriving. It’s a reminder to always keep going and keep growing.
- Hall C and Knuth M. An update of the literature supporting the well-being benefits of plants: A review of the emotional and mental health benefits of plants. Journal of Environmental Horticulture. March 2019; 37(1).
- psychologytoday.com/us/ blog/cravings/201909/11-ways- plants-enhance-your-mental-and- emotional-health
- Salingaros, Nikos. Biophilia & Healing Environments. Healthy Principles for Designing the Built World. (Terrapin, Bright Green LLC. 2015.)