As days get shorter, nights get longer, and the cold keeps you indoors, indoor gardening can bring mood-boosting nature to your space.
As autumn transitions into winter and the leaves and temperatures drop, it’s no surprise that your mood will follow suit. With the days getting shorter, lack of sunlight, and not being able to spend much time outdoors (depending on where you live), many people struggle with feeling down or not being their normal selves this time of year.
This phenomenon is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, and it can last about four to five months. SAD has been a part of the mental health discussion for years, but since the popularity and rise of TikTok, it’s gotten more attention. Bisma Anwar, a licensed mental health counselor in New York, was doing panel discussions on the disorder before COVID-19, but she’s noticed the conversation around SAD is on the rise.
Symptoms to look out for include changes in sleep schedules, difficulty eating, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and increased feelings of helplessness, Anwar said.
Whether you experience SAD or not, or get a little bit of the winter blues every year, it’s never a bad idea to indulge in some self-care when you’re feeling down. If you’re looking for an easy and affordable way to find solace, try growing some plants or starting an indoor garden. Research shows that greenery can boost our mood and have other positive effects.
In 2019, Melinda Nuth, an assistant professor in the Department of Horticulture at North Carolina State University, and a colleague published a new review summarizing the different effects of plants on people. They combed through existing research on the benefits of mood and mental health over the past 10 years — that’s a total of about 2,500 articles and nine months of work.
“We talked about how plants can help you reduce the stress hormone cortisol, just by being around them,” says Knuth. “Not only can there be this subliminal benefit when [we] get close to them, but just looking at a picture of a plant can also help lower your blood pressure and heart rate, which is pretty incredible.”
The reasoning behind this goes back to evolution—humans have relied on plants for nourishment, protection and fuel since ancient times, and Knuth points out that we have an innate relationship with them. So in today’s world (where we are further removed from nature than in the days of the hunter-gatherers), caring for home plants or growing vegetables indoors brings us that connection. Just like a walk or hike outside puts us in a calmer state, that feeling transforms when you bring nature into your home.
It’s also about self-care. Taking time out to do mental activities that help you relax will almost always give your mood a boost. Even if you don’t consider yourself a vegetative, having a plant as part of your self-care can benefit in many ways.
“There’s something inherent about being human that needs to be taken care of, and it can be a very grounded experience, a very mindful experience, and it helps you have a sense of routine,” Anwar said. “You look outside, it’s pretty desolate now [in winter]. The trees and everything, the leaves, everything is gone. But if you have houseplants, then you’re still in touch with colorful nature and green and everything, there’s a A very pleasant feeling that really came to us.”
Anwar explains that self-care can also act as a form of distraction that can help take your attention away from negative thoughts or feelings. In her TikTok video about SAD, Therappuccino gave a personal example of how she tapped into her love of coffee this way — trying new flavors, making cappuccinos, and just generally being more involved with her Daily coffee ritual. She also recommends journaling and meditating, even for 5 minutes a day, to keep yourself in the present moment.
If you’ve never owned a real plant, or are stressed about the care process, start with a pot or two—once you get into a routine, you can always add to your collection. Knuth recommends buying dandelions or snake plants because they can survive in low light. If your home has plenty of natural light, add flowering plants such as orchids, bromeliads, morning glory or marigolds – they have an even greater impact on your mental health. Even fake plants have an effect.
“It’s almost like going back to nature,” Knuth said. “In my opinion, that’s what we’re supposed to do in terms of health, because we put ourselves in this artificial environment. That’s why we see these subliminal health effects — we don’t even need to know they’re happening. Just Being around [the plants] helps us.”