Indoor plants can be an inexpensive way to brighten up the decor of an office space, and a new Japanese study suggests that they can also improve your mental health at work.
People who kept a small plant on their desk had lower levels of anxiety and stress at the end of a four-week period.
For the study, researchers instructed 63 participants who worked a full-time desk job to take a three-minute break when they felt “fatigued” to tend to, water and gaze at a desk plant. The most popular plants chosen were Japanese kokedamas and succulents.
Over the course of four weeks, participants recorded their pulse (a good indicator of your body’s stress response) before and after looking at the plants and filled out surveys that gauged their psychological state and anxiety levels. About 27% of participants experienced a significant decrease in their pulse rate by the end of the plant-tending period, and most participants’ anxiety scores decreased too.
So what makes a desk plant especially helpful? Having plants to look at presents a healthy, restorative distraction from draining office tasks, according to the study authors. Other research suggests that nature can serve as an antidote to over-stimulation or “attention fatigue,” as well as boost cognitive performance.
Beyond just looking at a leafy green plant, researchers wrote that developing a “mild attachment” to the plant added “slight but meaningful emotional involvement” that intensified the benefits. (Researchers noted that dead plants “did not have a very profound effect on participants’ psychological stress.”)
In the study, the plants were only a few inches tall and wide, and you can score a house plant for as little as $3 at a hardware store. Air plants, for instance, were included in this study and only cost $3 at Lowe’s.
While this study is somewhat small, other promising research has shown that simply spending time with nature has a positive effect on people’s memory, mood, creativity and productivity. A 2014 study, for example, found that adding plants to an office can increase workers’ productivity by 15%. And a 2012 study suggests that walking in nature can be helpful for people with major depressive disorder.
If your job doesn’t allow you to have a plant on your desk, there are other things you can do throughout the day to reap the same benefits. Consider taking a walk in a natural setting, like a park or tree-lined road, on your break. Other studies have shown that walking in nature decreases anxiety, rumination and negative mood, while increasing memory performance.