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Put a houseplant on your desk to decrease anxiety significantly

A new study reveals stress-reducing benefits for office workers when even just viewing a small plant on their desk.

According to a new study from researches at the University of Hyogo in Awaji, Japan, the mere sight of an indoor plant can reduce stress at work.

“In modern society, stress reduction in the workplace is a pressing issue,” write the authors Masahiro Toyoda, Yuko Yokota, Marni Barnes, and Midori Kaneko. “Although many studies have been done on the psychological and physiological effects of indoor plants, the majority of them have been conducted in laboratory or quasi-office settings.”

“At present, not so many people fully understand and utilize the benefit of stress recovery brought by plants in the workplace,” said Toyoda. “To ameliorate such situations, we decided it essential to verify and provide scientific evidence for the stress restorative effect by nearby plants in a real office setting.”

So the team decided to test the stress reducing superpowers of plants on 63 office workers at an electric company in Japan. There were two phases of the research. First, a control period before plants, and then an intervention period in which the participants were able to view and care for a small plant that they chose from among six options (air plants, bonsai plants, san pedro cactus, foliage plants, kokedama, or echeveria). The researchers recorded pulse rates and measured psychological stress using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) during both phases.

During the intervention period, participants had the plants on their desks so that they could always see them; the researchers called this “passive involvement” with the plants. They were also able to care for their plant – an “active involvement.” When workers felt fatigued, they were asked to take a three-minute break and look at their plants –this intentional gazing, the researchers say, was considered an active interaction with plants that workers could do quickly and easily at their desks. Both of these passive and active involvements with the plants were considered for their contribution to the lessening of stress and fatigue.

airplant on a deskAn air plant used in the study on office stress reduction. Photo: Masahiro Toyoda/CC BY 4.0

Even a wee air plant was effective in reducing stress.

Regardless of the age of the worker or the type of plant they chose, the calming effects measured during the study showed that “anxiety decreased significantly” from before plants to post-intervention. The research suggests that “placing small plants within close sight contributed to psychological stress reduction across the board,” notes the team.

“Our study indicates that having opportunities to gaze intentionally at nearby plants on a daily basis in the work environment can reduce the psychological and physiological stress of office workers,” they add.

Further research on nature-based methods of stress reduction is necessary, conclude the authors. But for now it's safe to say that a little bit of green on the desk can go a long way.

And with that in mind, I am going to go stare at one of my beautiful green babies for a few minutes.

The study, “Potential of a Small Indoor Plant on the Desk for Reducing Office Workers' Stress,” was published in the journal HortTechnology, by the American Society for Horticultural Science.

A new study reveals stress-reducing benefits for office workers when even just viewing a small plant on their desk.