Working from home made me depressed—then I got plants

If you asked me for advice about working from home a year ago, I’d have said something a little generic like “find a good work schedule” or “take frequent breaks.” If you ask me now, I’d honestly say you should get a plant.

Inevitably, though, that plant will get a little lonely, so you’ll probably end up getting two more, or five more, or 10 more. As of right now, I have about 30 indoor plants in my one-bedroom house. It might seem like a lot, but if you scroll through the #plantstagram or #urbanjungle tags on Instagram, you’ll realize my plant obsession is mild compared to others.

But why are plants so trendy nowadays? And why should people who work from home get a few leafy coworkers?

It’s no secret that working from home can impact your mental health, and nothing has underlined that for me like living alone. While I previously had student roommates who I’d see throughout the day, I now can’t vent to anyone as I work. I can’t share ideas and triumphs with them. As an extrovert, that can weigh on my spirit. Add to that the cabin fever, weird schedules, and forgetting to take breaks to eat lunch, and you have the perfect storm for poor mental health. As someone with PTSD and other mental illnesses, I always enjoy using as many tools as I can to keep my spirits up—and houseplants are one of those tools.

Houseplants are not just super Instagrammable—they can have mental health benefits, too.

Most of us enjoy nurturing things, says Lauren Cook, a therapist and author based in San Diego. “Caring for something and watching it grow (and knowing that it is growing because of our care) is a meaningful experience for humans,” Cook explains. Having children is pretty expensive, as is having a pet. Provided you don’t opt for rare and unusual varieties, houseplants are pretty cheap. They’re an accessible way to flex our nurturing muscles. No wonder why so many of us are self-described plant moms.

There’s also the fact that watering, misting, and caring for plants can be a mindful, relaxing activity. We have to take a break from our computers and focus on something else. “Nature reminds us to slow down,” Cook explains. “A plant’s growth does not happen overnight; in fact, it can take years to develop. There is a peace in this slow pace and a reminder that growth can be happening, even when it does not seem so.”

“Watering the plants on a regular basis can actually be healing in itself given that it provides for a routine. It can be very helpful to have a routine,” says Suzanna Chen, M.D., a psychiatrist based in Manhattan. “This allows for slowing down and having mindfulness moments.”

It turns out that ecotherapy is a real thing.

Immersing yourself in nature seems like such a dismissive answer to mental illness, on par with people telling you to “Just be positive!” or “Just try yoga!” But, much like optimism and yoga, nature can actually be one helpful tool of many for people who deal with anxiety, depression, and other illnesses. In fact, there’s a whole field of therapy called horticultural therapy, says Chen.

There’s quite a lot of scientific evidence in support of nature-based therapy. One 2012 study looked at 20 people with major depressive disorder and found that a 50-minute walk in nature improved their memory and mood. Other studies found that hospitals with gardens facilitated healing and an improved mood in patients. More studies show that gardening reduces stress and that plants in the workplace improve mood.

And yes, this includes indoor plants. Indoor plants can be a great way to bring nature right into your house, which is great if you don’t have an outdoor garden of your own. All the more reason why you should invest in some leafy coworkers.

On days when I feel fatigued and overwhelmed by emotions, when I don’t feel like getting out of bed, and when I can’t seem to pull myself away from my laptop and relax, my houseplants (and my cats!) force me to slow down. Since they depend on me for survival, I have no choice but to take a moment to examine, water, and/or mist them. This seemingly small bit of responsibility gives me a sense of purpose. “Caring for something living can be helpful in adding to our purpose and allowing us to feel connected to nature and the greater world,” Chen explains.

Not to mention that it’s a fun hobby. Googling plants, visiting nurseries, looking for pots, adding rare plants to your wish list, and joining social media communities for plant enthusiasts is super exciting and engages you with other people who love doing the same thing. It’s also a fairly cheap hobby to start—although many enthusiasts spend quite a lot on their favorite plants.

Having a beautiful workspace also makes me feel happier about getting up and working each day. I’m not looking at a drab wall, but a few strings of English ivy growing over my pinboard. Wherever I look, I see my fittonias, rubber plants, monsteras, pileas, pothos, and succulents—all fruits of my own labor—and I remember that the world is a beautiful place, even when work gets tough.

If you’re going to work and live in the same space, it’s worth investing in that space and making it a place where you actually enjoy being. It’s also worth trying out a relatively cheap mental health tool. So, if you’re working from home, consider placing a few beautiful plants on your desk. If you’re a houseplant newbie or if you have a brown thumb, try buying some hard-to-kill houseplants.

Happy planting!