How House Plants Can Reduce Anxiety
A top neuropsychologist shares how parenting a plant can boost your mood and lower your stress.
When pandemic produce first became scarce, I noticed a trend among my friends––they started growing their own vegetables. Writer Nancy Lynée Woo says that gardening has not only provided her with food, but also a personal place for contemplation. “As a poet,” she says, “I am always in the process of reflecting the world around me through language, and lately I’ve been paying deeper attention to the “languages” of plants.” And, she says, this level of focus has lessened her fear and anxiety, while also dressing her table with tomatoes.
So, what is it about growing things that sets our minds at ease? And, a mind at ease is certainly something we could all use right now. Here, NYC Neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez gives it to us in clinical terms.
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Why are plants therapeutic?
According to Dr. Hafeez, there are many facets to the benefits of having houseplants, from our physical to our emotional health, and those benefits are backed up by science. ”Extensive research by NASA has shown that house plants can remove up to 87 percent of air toxins in 24 hours,” she says, making house plants natural air purifiers. “Studies have also proven that indoor plants improve concentration and productivity, boost mood and reduce stress,” by almost 50% in some cases.
(My mother would have pointed out that growing something also provides a sense of efficacy, like, if you can take care of a plant, you can take care of a person. I don’t know about that, but I was definitely able to graduate from my tiny cactus to a goldfish in the sixth grade. RIP, Mr. Goobs. You lived a long and happy life.)
- Beautytap’s community of Beauty Experts (aestheticians, makeup artists, hair stylists and skincare aficionados) recommend this skin-soothing toner with plant extracts for a dose of hydration.
What is Horticultural Therapy?
“As we stand in relation to plants and animals—and one another—we are not exempt, but alive as creatures in and of the world.” –from Attendance by Rocío Carlos and Rachel McLeod Kaminer.
As usual, the poets have it. Horticulture therapy is a “form of therapy connected to the concept of biophilia,” says Dr. Hafeez, “which is the idea that people are genetically connected to nature and plant life.” She goes on to say that this technique, “relies on plants and gardening to help people overcome health issues such as high blood pressure, memory disorders, depression, addiction, and trauma or abuse.”
The goal of plant therapy is to, “help patients build self-confidence, social connections, get outside into nature, and increase compassion.” Parenting a plant is also a form of meditation. “The tasks required to maintain healthy plant life–weeding, trimming and watering–are routine and repetitive,” says Dr. Hafeez, “allowing a person to free up thoughts and clear their minds.”
And, attention all introverts: a garden can provide an escape from other people while combating loneliness or isolation, since not only do you have something pleasant to look at, but you have something low pressure to love.
So, what kind of houseplants can we incorporate into a self-care routine?
I must confess, while I have great appreciation for nature, I have yet to adopt a houseplant–I thought keeping a dog alive was enough responsibility. But now that I see how beneficial they are to my wellbeing, I am about to take the leap.
“Succulents are perfect first plants,” says Dr. Hafeez. “They’re low maintenance and they thrive in direct sunlight.” And if you’re really crafty, you can make them into wall art. She also recommends one of the thousands of species of bromeliads, a “gift from the gods” for Incas, Aztecs, and Mayans, who used almost every part of the plant for food, shelter, fibers, and ceremonies, and could be a great way to foster your connection with the ancestors. Or, you could try a snake plant, which is unique in that it continues to emit oxygen even at night, so it’s perfect for your bedroom.
Dr. Hafeez, though, is partial to the glamour of orchids and has a few tips for how to care for them. “Orchids don’t fare well in too much direct sunlight,” she says. “A semi-shady east or west-facing windowsill is ideal, especially in the summer.” It is important to note that they are kind of like Goldilocks and her porridge–too bright and you risk burning the leaves, too dark and you won’t get flowers. The doctor suggests using just a spoonful or two of tepid water a week to keep the soil moist and to be mindful of placing the pot somewhere humid, like a bathroom or a kitchen shelf. When the last bloom fades, she recommends snipping off the flower spike to just above the bud, an inch or so below the last flower. “That will help a new shoot to form, bringing with it plenty of new flowers.”
Orchids may be a bit more high maintenance for some. I’ve decided to channel my mother and go with a spider plant in macrame. Can’t wait to share how productive I get!