How plants help to reduce stress

By Dr Katie Cooper, Psychologist and founder of Bloombox Club

The shorter, colder days of winter often coincide with increased ill health and stress, with many adults succumbing to the ‘Winter Blues’. Today's National Stress Awareness Day comes at the right moment to give us all a nudge to take stock and plan for a life with less stress.

Environmental psychology research has shown that contact with nature is an important aspect of psychological restoration. For thousands of years people have felt compelled to spend time in nature, grow plants and bring them into their homes. It is not know exactly why this is, but theories mainly all centre around it being linked to the way humans evolved and learned to use nature to survive. There is still an inherent belief that nature is ‘good’ and can be a stress-buster -  a Dutch nationwide study revealed that 95% of respondents believed that a visit to nature is a useful way of obtaining relief from stress. The benefits of indoor plants are many, and span across both physical and mental wellbeing, with a few of particular importance:

Air purification

NASA research as far back as the 1980s showed that plants can reduce levels of pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. These are found in a range of household items such as wallpaper, upholstery and cleaning products. Plants reduce the levels by breathing the toxins in alongside carbon dioxide, then releasing it back into the air in the form of oxygen. A breath of fresh air really is great for a mood boost!

Humidity

Humidity levels fall during winter months as we keep the heating on. The dry air can be detrimental to our skin and our eyes by drying the outer layers and causing discomfort. But low humidity levels can also be detrimental to our health - studies have shown that colds are more common in people who spend more time in dry rooms. Plants raise humidity levels as they release water through their leaves - the bigger the leaves the better the plant is at this. As colds have a detrimental effect on our moods and stress levels, plants are a great way of staying happier.

Feelings

A number of studies has shown that people are at their best when surrounded by nature. Even just the colour green can lift our spirits. It’s an innate need that we have to connect with nature. Merely sitting in a room with plants can improve our mood and positivity. Studies involving people at computer-related tasks showed that those in spaces with foliage plants, made people more focused, creative, playful and friendly.

Stress Reduction

Maybe most importantly, plants can help us relax. Images of nature have shown a reduction of cortisol levels, whilst those of urban landscapes do not have the same calming effect. Further studies have shown that reduction in stress hormones happens when people are in a room which contains plants. A study measuring stress response when performing a computer task showed that without plants in the room, participants’ blood pressure rose, indicating stress. Those performing the same task in a room with plants placed in their peripheral vision had a lower blood pressure increase and returned to pre-task level much quicker than the plant-less group. This result was achieved even though the plants were not brought to their attention, meaning that the mere presence of nature has a calming effect on humans.

Nurture

Last but not least, the act of nurturing a living being brings us contentment. Taking care of a plant provokes an attention to the present, a ‘mindfulness’. It is grounding and brings us back to basics -  a welcome respite from our tech-heavy lives. The act of nurturing something in turn forces us to nurture ourselves. Caring for a living thing gives us a purpose and hugely rewarding - especially when you see that living thing thrive.

Turning our attention to tending plants when in our homes gives us a sense of calm, an appreciation of nature and something that’s bigger than our day-to-day. With stress being shown as causing immune suppression leading to poor health, it is vital that we balance our tech-heavy lives with a rediscovery of nature and its benefits.

And remember, Breathe, De-stress & Grow!

National Stress Awareness Day is organised by The International Stress Management Association. You can find a wealth of information about prevention and stress management on their website https://isma.org.uk



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