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How our "Green Thumbs" helped our Mental Health during the pandemic

On this cold January evening, close to two years since the COVID 19 pandemic began, I repotted and watered my five plants, and I must say I'm thoroughly impressed that they're all still alive! In the past I've not been very good at keeping plants alive, so I have a deep sense of accomplishment in their growth and beauty over the past year. Turns out I'm not the only one who has taken up planting over the past two years.

A recent study from shares that "two-thirds of Americans used this (COVID Pandemic) time to try out their green thumbs and spruce up their homes and gardens with plants.

Our survey found that not only is plant-keeping helping people pass the time, the hobby is also having a profound impact on people’s mental and physical health during this stressful time". "Eighty-eight percent of respondents who began a plant-keeping hobby said it has had a positive impact on their mental health. The hobby appears most beneficial for older adults. Ninety-three percent of respondents ages 54 and older said the hobby has positively impacted their mental health, as did 91% of retirees. Younger adults are finding it slightly less helpful; 84% of 18-24 year-olds who are keeping plants said it is positively impacting their mental health. In terms of employment, among military personnel who started keeping plants, only 67% said it is improving their mental health".

So what are some of the mental health benefits plants can offer?

photo credit: Instagram @thegingerplanter

Stress Reducing Studies have shown that people have positive feelings when interacting with plants; they feel more comfortable and soothed when interacting with plants, than electronics. It has also found that planting can decrease diastolic blood pressure and sympathetic nervous system activity. Overall, planting can reduce physiological and psychological stress.

Reduced symptoms of depression. Researchers repeatedly report increases in subjects' mood, fewer incidents of depressive symptoms, as well as increased memory span and decreased symptoms of anxiety after a walk in nature, as compared to a walk through an urban environment. One Korean study of patients diagnosed with moderate to severe depression compared the effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) performed in a hospital to CBT performed in an arboretum with a forest-like setting. Symptoms of depression were most significantly reduced in the arboretum group, who also experienced 20% to 30% higher rates of complete remission when compared to a typically medicated group.

Decrease ADHD Symptoms Natural landscapes, such as beaches, waters, forests, parks, and mountains, and availability of public open spaces used for public entertainment and sports reduce attention deficit disorders (ADD/ADHD) (Coutts and Hahn 2015, Frumkin 2013, Keniger et al. 2013). Green restoration improved preschooler spatial working memory (Schutte 2017) and cognitive functioning improved when participants walked in nature (Berman et al. 2008). Children with ADHD concentrated better after a walk in a park than after a downtown neighborhood walk (Taylor and Kuo 2009). Wilson (2015) showed that children who play in greenspace for 30 minutes had increased sustained mental ability and found greenspace to be restorative. Taking micro-breaks to view nature can help with attention restoration (Lee et al. 2015).

Sense of Purpose “Like animals, houseplants can improve individuals’ mood by allowing them to care for something other than themselves,” she (Leela Magavi, M.D.) says. “This can create a sense of connectedness, which can alleviate feelings of anxiety and loneliness.” The benefits come from more than just looking at plants, though—they also stem from watering, pruning, and caring for the vegetation, as well.

Sense of Success Watching a plant grow and grow well enough that it can be propagated is a great feeling. The encouragement and hope that is felt as you nurse a dying plant back to life. Thes sense of success in knowing you made a beautiful plant, by nurturing and taking care of its daily needs. Feeling the success in that you can do something which you couldn't do in years prior.

As we creep deeper into the winter season be sure to add some greenery into your home and reap the mental health benefits that these beauties have to offer.

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