Could putting a plant on your desk reduce work stress?

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If one of your resolutions for 2020 is to reduce your stress levels, then putting a plant on your work desk could help, according to new Japanese research.

Carried out by researchers at the University of Hyogo in Awaji, the new study set out to investigate whether indoor plants could boost mental health among office workers, a group that typically doesn't have much exposure to healthy green environments.

The team recruited 63 employees for the study and measured any changes in the participants' psychological and physiological stress before and after placing a plant on the workers' desks.

Participants were given a choice of six different types of small indoor plants plants to keep on their desks: air plants, bonsai plants, San Pedro cactus, foliage plants, Kokedama or Echeveria. Once they had made their choice, they were asked to keep the plant near the PC monitor on their desk.

The researchers then carried out two stages of the study; a one-week control period where the participants worked without a plant on their desk, and a four-week intervention period where the plant was in eyesight and the participants were asked to look after it. During the intervention stage, the participants were also asked to gaze intentionally at the plant for three minutes whenever they felt fatigued.

The findings, published in the journal HortTechnology, by the American Society for Horticultural Science, showed that psychological stress, as measured by the participants' levels of anxiety, decreased significantly from before to after the intervention stage of the study. Psychological stress levels also dropped significantly after three minutes of gazing at the plant, as measured by taking the pulse rates of participants.

Moreover, anxiety levels decreased across all age groups and regardless of which plant the participant had selected.

Many participants also responded positively to caring for their plants, feeding back positive comments such as "Seeing my own plant growing was fun" or "Taking care of the plant was recreational." The researchers say that choosing their own plant and feeling affection for it could have contributed to the decrease in the participants' psychological stress, along with having plants within close sight.

They added that the findings suggest that placing small indoor plants in offices could be an economical and effective way to improve office conditions for workers.

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