Indoor plants have become an Instagram aesthetic and a way to spice up simplistic spaces. Yet, their role has rooted in many people as a means of helping mental health. Rightly so, research has shown that indoor plants may reduce “psychological and physiological stress”, says Nutritionist and botanical medicine expert Rick Hay for the Metro.
During lockdown, caring for plants has been a way of keeping myself productive and encouraging self-care. I was intrigued to see if this had been the case for anybody else. I spoke with Kate from Wales & West Housing Association who is fond of caring for her indoor plants.
Kate has battled depression since the age of 16, now 42, she has had years of experimenting and trying new ways to manage her own mental health as well as being on medication. From hypnotherapy, acupuncture, CBT, and yoga therapy, to nutritional advice regarding mental health and hormone balance, the list is certainly long. After having her dosage doubled in the middle of May this year, Kate felt like a failure.
She comments, “I’m great at reassuring others that medication is okay, and that if we had diabetes we wouldn’t perceive ourselves as failures for having to take insulin etc, but I know how hard it is to take that message into your own heart for your own sake. I’ve tried oodles of different therapies and interventions and learnt a HECK of a lot along the way.”
“I think it’s really helpful sometimes for people to know that others are going through a difficult time, especially as we live in an age where social media makes it easy to think that everyone else is nailing it. I’m also aware that if someone is struggling, then that will be unique to them, so it’s not for me to say ‘I know exactly what you’re going through’ or ‘Here’s how you fix it’. It’s not about me at that point and I’m always happy to lend an ear and share my experience if it helps in any way.”
Plants have provided many pro’s for her mental health as well as fitting the beautiful aesthetic we see in images of minimalist homes shown on our feeds.
A positive distraction, minus the pressure to succeed
I’ve never met Kate, but her humorous personality really shines through in these answers. When asked how many plants she owns she remarks, “I can see six from where I’m sat! I’ve just had a quick go at counting the house plants in my head and I probably have somewhere between 70–80 in total. I don’t even know what half of them are called! I tend to learn about the plants as I go along depending on how they respond to what I’m doing with them.”
She feels her plants have massively benefited her mental health. Caring for another living thing is nourishing and often easier than caring for one’s own self, says Kate. Psychologically, houseplants have shown to improve mood, reduce stress levels, increase productivity and better attention span, according to RHS.
Focusing on caring for another living being can be a lifeline
Most importantly, focusing on watering and caring for another life can be a lifeline. Kate expands, “There’s something in there for me about responsibility and accountability. I know that the plants rely on me to stay alive, so I’ll make the effort to water them, even if I can’t summon up the energy to do anything else, and then when I HAVE been round the whole house and said hello to them all, I’m actually feeling a bit brighter and I can face tackling a few more things.”
A space to safely experiment
The beauty of caring for plants is the complete freedom to experiment and figure out what your plants are needed. Most importantly, it takes the pressure off your mental health to “get it right”.
Kate describes this process as rewarding, particularly when the plants produce seedlings, elaborating “I often give the babies away too, which is a really nice way of bringing kindness and friendship into the mix. And you REALLY don’t need to be an expert. In fact, there are some occasions when it’s worked out better that I’m not!
I trimmed one of my plants and stuck the bits I’d cut off in water to see if they’d do anything, and they grew roots and I eventually put them into pots. I thought nothing of this until my friend, who is a houseplant boffin, came round and saw them in the water and said ‘That shouldn’t work! They shouldn’t do that!’, and I just thought ‘Phew, I’m glad I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do that and I took a chance!’
Letting go of the need to control
With anxiety in particular, I’ve always struggled with the need to control everything around me. Caring for plants is one way of practising letting go of the need to control. Kate words this perfectly, “I know that one of my coping mechanisms when I’m not okay is to create order out of chaos and to make sure everything around me is ‘just so’. While that helps at times, it can also become a bit obsessive. The thing with plants is that they’ll flourish in the place that is best for THEM! You can decide you want to put a plant somewhere because it looks just right in that particular position, but if it’s not the right environment for it, it’ll let you know soon enough. It encourages me to go with the flow and be more relaxed.”
A boosting element to your environment
Environment plays a large role in our mental well-being. A clean and tidy space allows room for thought and seeing clearly. A 2010 study found that women who described their living spaces as “cluttered” and/or full of “unfinished projects” were more likely to experience depression compared to those who described their homes as being “restful”.
Plants are a great and easy way to spruce up your area. Kate recommends Sansevieria — otherwise known as ‘Mother-in-law’s Tongue’, and Epipremnum — known as ‘Devil’s Ivy’. She elaborates, “They’re super easy, they look really nice and they make a good pairing in a display as one is tall and straight and the other is trailing. Sansevieria grows new ‘baby’ plants out from its base, and you can just remove these and pop them in another pot.”
Indoor plants can be found in most supermarkets and homeware stores, many at affordable prices. You can also find various air purifying plants that are highly beneficial for physical health.
Thank you to Kate for her time and thank you to you, the reader, for engaging with this article. If you’d like to get in touch with any questions, feedback or inquiries please do not hesitate to contact me here.
Ciao for now x