A Small Plant on Your Desk Can Make a Big Difference to Your Stress Levels, Scientists Say

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Credit: Elissa Crowe

If, like most people, you occasionally suffer from stress, there’s a good chance that your workplace is the cause of at least some of it. In fact, studies have shown that work is by far the leading cause of stress for most people. Work-based stress is also not limited to office-based workers. Remote workers can suffer too

Other than give up work altogether, which might not be the best financial decision, what else can you do to relieve stress and anxiety? According to a recent study, placing a small plant on your desk might help.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Hyogo in Awaji, Japan, assessed the stress levels of office workers at a Japanese electrical company during a typical working day to see what effect plants might have on stress levels. 

During the study period, workers took intentional three-minute breaks with and without the presence of a small plant on their desks. The workers were also instructed to have various levels of involvement with the plants. Some were told to gaze intentionally at the plants while others were told to care for the plants by watering them.

Credit: Franke Chung

In order to gauge stress levels, researchers measured worker pulse rates during and after the rest periods and questioned the workers on how stressed they were feeling. By comparing the pulse rates of those workers who had a plant on their desk to those who didn’t, researchers saw a noticeable reduction in pulse rates among at least 30 percent of the plant watchers. Workers whose breaks featured plants were also more likely to say they felt more relaxed. 

So it turns out that being around even small plants in the office can have a considerably calming effect. Researchers noticed a soothing impact on all participants. Still, the most profound difference was noted in workers who were told to either gaze intentionally at their plants or to water them. A variety of plants from bonsai trees to cactuses were used in the study, but no particular plant was more calming than another.

According to the study’s author Masahiro Toyoda, “The results suggest that if employers would provide active encouragement for workers to take three-minute ‘nature breaks,’ the mental health of their employees would improve.” 

While the study doesn’t give any concrete reasons why looking at plants is so calming, the researchers assume that it has something to do with not looking at a computer screen during your break time. The study says that “a plant on the desk in our study provided the opportunity for soft fascination in the office environment.” 

So next time you notice your stress levels soaring, try staring at the nearest plant. You’ll have to excuse me as I run to my nearest garden center.