Whether you’re a lifelong freelancer with a comfortable home office setup or a suddenly recent transplant to the working-from-home life, you can probably benefit from whatever de-stressing help you can get. There are certain luxuries to working from home, like setting your own schedule, a nonexistent dress code (pajamas!) or the freedom to work with your cat curled up on your lap. However, as more and more workers join the at-home ranks (often involuntarily, in the constantly-evolving COVID-19 realities of “shelter at home” and “self-isolation”), many are learning that working from home can be at times chaotic, uncertain and stressful. Is your toddler especially attracted to your keyboard? You’ve just joined a conference call and your baby is screaming, up uncharacteristically early from a nap? Did someone spill juice on the kitchen table doubling as your desk? Or maybe you’re working solo, but it’s actually a bit lonely and isolating? Working from home is often far from easy or relaxing.
While the solutions to these larger challenges of navigating the new (perhaps imposed) conditions of your working-from-home life are not necessarily simple, there are small things you can do to bring some calm to the storm. One simple, back-to-nature solution: buy a plant. Or two, or three. Remember back to your high school biology class when you learned about all of the incredible qualities of plants? Not only can plants help clean the air inside your home (a.k.a. your new, makeshift workspace), but they are also proven to reduce stress and improve your mood, generating an overall positive effect on your health as well as your work.
Reduce stress and improve your mental health
Think back to the last time you were in nature—truly in nature—with few people around, connected to the sounds, sights and smells of your surroundings. Can you remember that “ahh” exhaling, grounding feeling you can get while in nature? Research shows that being in natural environments helps us feel more calm and relaxed, thereby enhancing our mood and reducing stress.
As it turns out, you can benefit from these same positive effects on mood and stress levels by having plants in indoor spaces. Just seeing the green inside can help to calm and ground us (especially important during the deep months of winter or any type of home quarantine, when spending time outside is not an option). Furthermore, interacting with indoor plants (taking care of, touching or smelling them) has been shown to reduce psychological and physiological stress, according to a study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology. Certain plants, such as lavender, are known for being especially beneficial in reducing anxiety, stress, insomnia and depression.
Purify your air
The American Lung Association reports that our indoor air can be even more polluted than the air outside. Common indoor objects such as carpets, paint, printer toners, inks and cleaning products emit pollutants called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which have negative effects on air quality and health. Exposure to these fine particles, as well as mold, asbestos, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide, can cause headaches, dry eyes and skin irritations, and may exacerbate respiratory problems.
Plants are powerful air purifiers: research by NASA has shown that houseplants can remove up to 87 percent of air toxins in 24 hours. Indoor spaces such as schools and offices have long been adding greenery to their environments, recognizing plants’ abilities to reduce airborne mold and bacteria. Certain plants, such as English ivy and asparagus fern, are especially known for their air-cleansing qualities. Adding plants to your indoor workspace also increases oxygen levels, as during photosynthesis plants absorb the carbon dioxide we humans release when we breathe, and in turn produce oxygen.
Enhance concentration and productivity (and spruce up your workspace!)
Not only can plants reduce our overall stress levels, but they can also help benefit our focus and job performance. A study from the University of Exeter found that plants aid concentration, increase productivity and boost staff wellbeing by 47 percent at work. Researchers from Texas State University reported that office workers interviewed on their job satisfaction and work environments felt better about their jobs in offices with plants and window views of nature. The findings make sense: when we are comfortable and calm it is easier for us to focus and produce our best work.
Personal tastes aside, plants are also visually pleasing, and are an inexpensive way to add color and life (literally) to your home office. Working in a space we enjoy—and enjoy looking at—simply adds to our overall satisfaction during work.
Wondering which plants to buy?
You don’t have to worry about going out to buy any specific plant to enjoy the overall benefits of plants in your home office. Any plant is a wonderful and positive addition! If you are interested, however, in learning about the specific qualities and distinct benefits of different plants, do some research on the plants with the most air-purifying properties. Snake plants, for example (which are very easy to care for), remove xylene, toluene and trichloroethylene from the air in your home, making them good to place in your bedroom for improved sleep. Peace lilies are known for their ability to purify the air by removing carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and benzene. If you’re inspired to seek deeper reading, NASA scientist Dr. B.C. Wolverton wrote a book on the 50 best houseplants to purify your home or office.
If you don’t have a green thumb and caring for plants sounds daunting, start with succulents, such as jade plants or aloe vera, which are known for being low maintenance. Peace lilies and spider plants are also great for beginners. Start with just one, and learn as you go.
Plants are certainly not a panacea for the challenges of working from home, especially if you’re doing so unexpectedly and are juggling the organization of a family’s needs, kids at home or “shelter in place” measures. Plants can, however, bring the welcome addition of a little nature into your home workspace, making it more grounding and calming in the midst of the unpredictable nature of life.
So, go buy a plant.