SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – While professional mental health counseling should still be peoples’ go to for improving their mental health, plant ownership might be another easy and cheap thing to do to feel a bit better. 

2022 has been a high-stress year for many and has followed several other stressful years in a row. Data from the American Psychological Association confirms this sentiment, indicating that 87% of surveyed adults in the US feel “like there has been a constant stream of crises without a break over the last two years.” 

In addition to their report on Americans being stressed out, the APA article discusses how “sustained survival mode” and long-term stress frequently lead to unhealthy behavior and health consequences. Some of these behaviors include increased drinking, getting less sleep, and getting less exercise. Many Americans have spent more time indoors than ever before in the last few years. 

Individual mental health is reliant upon a multitude of factors but having and taking care of a few houseplants might help those struggling to feel a bit better every day.

In an article written for The Ohio State University’s medical blog, Dr. Matthew Flanigan writes about how he feels positively about plant ownership and mental health. As a primary care physician, Dr. Flanigan says he “always makes a point to discuss non-pharmacological approaches to help with mood symptoms” such as exercise, meditation, yoga, and more. 

Dr. Flannigan writes that while it is difficult to prove scientifically that growing plants has a positive mental health impact, “it’s hard to see a downside” to it. He argues that in contrast to procedures and medications, growing a house plant doesn’t suffer from a high burden of proof required for implementation. “If there’s any reason to think that plants are helpful and no concern for harm, I ask, ‘Why not?’” says Dr. Flannigan. In other words, Dr. Flannigan says that plants have no “side effects” like traditional medicine. 

Dr. Flannigan’s argument that houseplants have virtually no downside is supported by experimental evidence that they can improve mood. One study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology and National Library of Medicine indicates that test subjects manifested positive physiological responses when performing plant related tasks such as repotting, transplanting, and watering. These results were compared to a control where subjects performed a computer-based task, and manifested poorer physiological responses in contrast. 

Another scholarly article in the Journal of Environmental Horticulture by Charles Hall and Melinda Knuth provides an extensive literature review of many studies and reports that indicate houseplants “positively influence social, physical, psychological cognitive, environmental, and spiritual well-being.” They reference studies that indicate that exposure to “green spaces” results in lower levels of cortisol, a hormone released in the body from stress.

Hall and Knuth also indicate that a greener workspace results in “enhanced productivity and attention.” They reference studies that show that office spaces with visible greenery (indoors or out) increases workers’ ability to concentrate.

In short, there are plenty of arguments based on experimentation or otherwise that indicate that owning houseplants will cheer you up, and virtually no arguments to the contrary. Study of the subject indicates that at worst, taking care of a plant will have no effect on mental and emotional health rather than a negative effect. 

What plants should excited new “plant parents” try out? Dr. Flannigan recommends low-maintenance plants, such as aloe vera, English ivy, and eucalyptus. He also reports personally enjoying taking care of a small ficus tree which he has had for over six years. ABC4 digital recommends picking up a pothos, snake plant, or even a money tree for those feeling ambitious about their home-gardening skills. 

New houseplant owners should always make sure to check a new plant’s suitability for pets. Some can be toxic to cats and dogs.  

Those especially proud of their horticultural skills, or those who simply want to take their plant out for a spin should consider a plant stroller, such as the one designed by Alice Kim and reported on by Odditymall. Otherwise, consider displaying your houseplants by an open window, or even bringing one into your office space to show off.