5 Mental Health Benefits of Houseplants

|Updated Mar 3, 2022
Getty Images

The other day, it occurred to me that my boyfriend had gone off the quarantine deep end when he converted my aromatherapy diffuser into a humidifier, complete with a jerry-rigged paper straw funnel to promote airflow, to create well-being enhancing tropical climate in our tiny Manhattan abode—for our houseplants. But in all seriousness, houseplants can be a boon for our mental health. Especially during these socially-deprived and tumultuous times amidst the coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest, and the upcoming election, there’s a good reason those fiddle leaf figs are flying off the shelves.

Recently, Stoneside surveyed nearly a thousand people to see how their plants have influenced their stress levels as of late. They found that some of the top reasons for purchasing plants since March 2020 are to beautify living spaces (65%) with 54% noting they wanted “to have something else to focus on.” Additionally, 55% of survey takers said they regularly or sometimes talk to their plants. In the face of months and months of social isolation, we’re all for talking to Fernie the Fern and Fickus the Ficus. But beyond beauty and the hobby of caring for them, plants can help us in numerous ways. Below, a look at all the ways houseplants can help us out right now, from bringing the outdoors inside to boosting creativity.

1. Houseplants give you a taste of nature.

Prized as they may be, the aforementioned humble Manhattan abode (or any city, for that matter), isn't exactly a snowglobe for appreciating the natural world, let alone a sliver of outdoor space unless you’re one of the lucky few with a balcony.

“Houseplants are an easy way to bring the outside in and reap the restorative and calming effects of nature. A Japanese study that explores Shinrin-yoku (‘forest bathing’) concluded that spending time around nature lowers stress levels, reduces blood pressure and has an overall relaxing effect on the body,” shares Joyce Mast, Plant Mom at Bloomscape.

2. Tending to plants models self-care.

As many struggle with their mental health right now, it’s a comfort to know that something as simple as watering your plants a few times a week and giving them plant food as needed can be a boon for your mood. “Caring for a plant, giving it water and sunlight, the simple consistent habits required to thrive, lay the foundation of doing these things for yourself. This can also create a positive feedback loop, in which you are taking on a measured responsibility, following through, and witnessing the effects,” says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, A Harvard trained clinical psychologist currently working at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, in New York City. “Plants are a metaphor for ourselves. Tangible evidence of what can happen when we are consistent, do what needs to be done, and adapt to our environmental needs. Plants teach us the outcome is worth the effort and that we are constantly growing and evolving.”

3. They can boost your creativity.

As we stare endlessly at the four walls that make up our homes, we could sure use a double dose of creative energy. “There are so many benefits of having indoor plants, especially as people are working at home more, including improved cognitive function and creativity. A Texas A&M study found that having indoor plants in the workplace greatly improved idea generation, creative problem-solving, and boosted concentration,” says Mast. “We at Bloomscape often talk about how plants improve our mental outlook by providing ‘gezellig’ (a Dutch word meaning a feeling of coziness, comfort and relaxation) and give us a sense of well-being.”

4. Houseplants can make you more productive.

Ready to power through your day? We’ll be the first to admit that during these long, monotonous months of hunkering it’s hard to find the willpower to stay focused. Let plants give you some of that extra, much-needed mojo:  “A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied by Nieuwenhuis and colleagues found that the presence of plants in the workplace led to increased productivity, positive perceptions of air quality, and higher levels of concentration,” comments Romanoff. “As a result, they observed how workplace satisfaction and objective measures of productivity went up as a result of the presence of plants,” she continues, noting that this is a testament to how much plants enrich our environments and our general well-being.

5. They can boost your mood and reduce feelings of anxiety.

Right now, it’s difficult to do many of the things we know can enhance feelings of happiness and reduce stress, like take a class at our favorite yoga studio or have coffee with a friend. Adding some houseplants to your windowsill can be a low-effort way to ease our minds and lower our stress levels. “Exposure to indoor plants has positive effects on mental health. When we're in the presence of indoor plants, the activity of our sympathetic nervous system, which is that fight-or-flight portion of our nervous system, decreases,” says Dr. Janelle Louis, ND, referencing this study from The Journal of Physiological Anthropology. “Indoor plants promote a sense of relaxation, comfort, and calm.”

Pointing to that same study, Mast adds, “[This research showed] that active interactions with houseplants—like transplanting, pruning, touching, and smelling—have the same relaxing and stress-reducing effects as spending time in a forest.” Seeing as not too many of us are lucky enough to get to that forest right now, we’ll take it.

Another way to reap similar benefits to owning houseplants? Head to a local park or even a tree-lined path or a grassy field. “Spending time in green space has positive effects on mental health. Being exposed to green space for as few as 20-30 minutes leads to a significant drop in our levels of the stress hormone cortisol,” says Louis. “High levels of cortisol for prolonged periods of time are associated with mood swings, anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.”

Relaxation, comfort, calm, and lowered cortisol? You don’t have to tell this orchid obsessive twice.